This year on Good Friday, the priest I live with, Mother Anne-Marie, preached a series of sermons interspersed with prayer and silence on the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ – here is number three.
Light of the world by darkness slain
“It is finished”. At this point as Jesus dies on the cross, it appears that the powers of darkness have won the day. Jesus the inspirational teacher, the miraculous healer and the great hope for the liberation of Israel is finished.
Jesus knew that all was finished and one way to read this is that he simply knew he was about to die – that it is finished. As he died how much did Jesus know about what would happen next? Did he have foreknowledge of the resurrection? Was he aware of his divinity? Sometimes the gospel writers imply that he did have such foreknowledge – the Gospel of John in particular, but these writings were many years after Jesus’ death and the writers were presenting a theology, and not necessarily quoting Jesus as if his words have been recorded on a tape for posterity. So theologians have struggled with these questions about whether Jesus knew exactly who he was and what was going to happen to him. I think we can tell he was very aware of his relationship with God the Father and seems very clear of what God wants him to do. But was this like we might be if we sense a strong calling from God or did Jesus know he was different? He was fully human, so there is part of me that thinks that as he died on the cross he did not know the ending. If his divinity meant that he was certain of his resurrection, then could death on a cross really be the sacrifice that paid for the sins of the whole world?
We can’t really know I suppose, but I think it is important that the Jesus on the cross is the very human Jesus, who suffered as we might suffer and doubted as we might doubt. Now this might seem to contradict the last talk when I said it was important to remember that it is God who hangs there on the cross. But this Jesus is fully God and fully human and now we need to take on board the very human Jesus who hangs on the cross.
What we can be sure about is that Jesus knew he had to be true to himself, to his mission and to his God and this meant seeing it through to the end. The battle was really fought in the garden of Gethsemane when he prays that the cup be taken from him, but at the same time submits to his Father’s will. And there alone in the garden must have come the answer – “my will is that you carry on and see this through to its inevitable end”.
And so “it is finished” has a double meaning. Jesus is saying I am dying, my life is ended; but he is also saying I have finished my mission, I have taken it to the end, I have done my Father’s will, I hand it all over to him now. This word “finished” is the same Greek word used earlier in John’s gospel for handed over, when the chief priests hand Jesus over to be crucified. So it very much has the sense of Jesus handing everything over to God now. He has done his part and now he dies.
At this mid point in our reflections I want us to try and forget the ending of the story. If we can bear it just for a moment can we just imagine this was it? The end. Jesus dies, Jesus is buried, Jesus is heard of no more. The forces of darkness, the evil in the world, have put out the light forever.
Every year at the Good Friday liturgy we enact in ritual the nothingness that is in the world when Jesus dies. The bread that was blessed last night, the real presence of Jesus, has been kept on the altar of repose overnight. In our liturgy in just over an hour’s time we will take that bread and as a people we will consume it. Normally we always keep some of the sacrament – the blessed bread and wine – in the aumbry by the High Altar for the sick. But all of that was consumed last night and the aumbrey door is left open. This afternoon when we have consumed all the sacrament from the altar of repose Jesus will have gone. From this point until the first communion of Easter there will be no blessed sacrament – no body and blood of Jesus for people to receive.
I always find it an awesome moment. We leave the aumbry door open and the church, which is stripped of ornamentation, is totally empty, stripped even of Jesus the very reason who whom the church exists.
It seems to me important that even in this symbolic way, we try to experience what it is like for there to be no Jesus. For the darkness to have overcome the light. For evil to have won the day. Because that is how it felt for the disciples that Friday afternoon two thousand years ago. They thought it had all come to naught. Their hopes were dashed.
There are some of us here today who will have experienced those sorts of feelings in our own lives. It may have been through a bereavement or a deep depression or a serious physical illness or when we lost our job. A feeling that life as we know it has ended and that we will never feel right again. It is incredibly scary.
Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord – the cry of the psalmist and a cry that most human beings utter to God at some point in their lives. Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord.
It is finished. There are times when that is how it seems – that there is no hope, that all the light in the world has been slain by the darkness. In the coming silence can we perhaps think of times in our own lives that have been like this, think of situations in the world that seem like this now, and think of those we know going through such darkness at the moment. We hold these people and situations before Jesus, who died on the cross in great agony and cried “It is finished”.
But because we do know the ending, we can pray a prayer of hope.
Let us pray.