Holy Week 2011 Daily Reflection on the Last Words of Christ
John 19. 30
30After Jesus drank the wine, he said, "Everything is done!"
We are all fascinated by the end of things. In the West, some think that we have reached the end of civilisation. For some, that end means decline: we see moral and social standards changing from what they used to be. As W. B. Yeats poetically puts it, “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” For others, that end is actually fulfilment: the philosopher Francis Fukuyama famously described Western liberal democracy as the ‘end of history’, meaning its positive climax. Alternatively, in science, physicists imagine how the universe will end: all matter and energy will slowly dissipate until there is no longer any matter or energy or even time, only nothing forever. For physicists, this end represents both decline and the fulfilment of the promise of the universe as we know it.
Whatever way we think of ‘the end of things’, Jesus’ word here has something to say: ‘It is finished’ or, as the Contemporary English Version translates it, “Everything is done!” In John’s account, Jesus then dies. Is this all that Jesus means, then, that this is the end of life for him? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. Jesus gives us a gift about death on the one hand, for sure: God’s Son is with us all in our mortality and death. But Jesus gives us a greater gift, on the other hand, that perhaps we lose in translation.
The Greek verb ‘finished’ has a richer sense than the English translation. The Latin translation of the Greek verb gives us this richness: consummatum est, it is complete, this is the consummation, it is fulfilled. Jesus’ mission has reached its flowering, the fullness of its gift. Jesus has announced God’s kingdom, talked about God’s kingdom, shown us glimpses of God’s kingdom, but now, more clearly and visibly than ever, Jesus is the kingdom. And the kingdom begins with death, the complete giving of oneself for love of the world.
Yet, that death is life to us. St. Paul talks about this paradox time and time again in his letters. In Philippians he writes, “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1.21) In Galatians, Paul expands “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (2.20) This miracle of divine life in us is possible because of the shape of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is the death of the Cross that shows how far God will go for us. It is then that we see God’s love most clearly, not in power or glory, but in solidarity. The gift of this Sixth Last Word is God’s love not only seen in the flesh but seen in blood and death.
Death is the one thing we all have to face. We will all draw one last breath, like our Lord on the Cross. In the Middle Ages, an important part of life was the art of dying well, the ars moriendi. The art of dying well had to do with life: it meant to be prepared to lead a good life in recognition of mortality but also to recognise a need for God’s forgiveness, God’s healing even in death. Jesus dies well in a different sense: there is no need of forgiveness, but instead he shows the fulfilment of forgiveness, given now as God’s gift to the world He loves.
This is an end, then, that is different to both examples given at the beginning of this reflection. It is not an ‘end of history’ either for good or for ill. The world still turns and struggles and awaits for God’s healing presence to be re-discovered anew each day. But neither do we wait for an inexorable and inevitable decline into a cosmic eternity of nothingness, as the physicist might speculate. Jesus fulfils a vision of God’s kingdom both present and still to come, both complete and being revealed, both now as a pressing reality and a possibility for every future moment. It is finished, it is complete, everything is done! ‘Consummatum est’ we still might hear Jesus whisper to us as an invitation, ‘Let me live in you for all time; let me finish the work God has begun in you’.
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his death,
that we may know eternal peace
through Jesus Christ our Lord.