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Sermon for Good Friday

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor, NS

March 25, AD 2005


It is finished”


“Consummatum est” – “it is finished”.  It is the penultimate word of Christ from the Cross and yet, it seems to signal a note of finality, an ending note. “It is finished”, Christ says, as John tells us. In his gospel, it is Christ’s last and final word from the Cross. And yet, it is not the last word, but only the next-to-the-last word in the tradition of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross.


But if that were not enough to give us pause to think just what it means to say “it is finished”, there is as well the additional perplexity and even paradox that this day which we call Good Friday falls this year on March 25th, the day which also denotes the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day which marks “the beginning of Christ’s story”, we might say, the day which, until the mid-eighteenth century in England at any rate, actually marked the beginning of the Christian year, Lady Day signaling the Annunciation, the conception of Christ, the beginning of the story of Christ with us.  Wonderfully and providentially, we are reminded of how we have our beginning and our ending in Christ on this day.


This conjunction of The Solemnity of Good Friday and The Feast of the Annunciation occurs every once and a while, of course.  It did in 1608, for instance, and moved the poet/preacher John Donne to reflect on that paradoxical conjunction of Christ’s coming to us and his going from us, his coming to us in the Annunciation, his conception in the womb of Mary, his going from us in his death on the Cross, his passion; “this doubtful day / of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away”.  As he suggests “this day hath shown, / Th’abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one /… Of the angels’ Ave, ‘and Consummatum est.”


“Th’abridgement of Christ’s story”.  It is a nice image, conveying the idea of the whole story of Christ captured in the conjunction of the Annunciation and the Passion.  In some sense, “it is finished”, then, complete, as it were.  The story has its ending concurrent and congruent with its beginning.  But to what end the story?  By which I mean, what is the purpose of the story?  What is the end in the sense of the telos? Τετέλεσταί, in the Greek, Jesus says, meaning, it is accomplished, fulfilled, or realized, even, perhaps, with the sense of perfection.  But is the end of the story Christ’s death on the Cross? To what end, that is to say, to what purpose?  The redemption of our humanity is the answer, our atonement.


We contemplate the death of Christ on the Cross on Good Friday.  The world is full of the spectacles of hideous and horrible deaths, never more so than in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in terms of the mind-numbing numbers and gruesome nature of the atrocities and the carnage that is constantly before us, a barbarity greater than any form of barbarity in human history.  Our modern history, in some sense, and without much exaggeration, is the story of holocaust upon holocaust, the story of the barbarity of reason against all reason and truth.


And yet, in a sense, it begins and ends here with the Passion of Christ.  Why?  Because the death of Christ means the death of God, make no mistake.  Therein lies the full horror and the utter folly of our humanity.  It lies in the dreadful perversity of our humanity to attempt to annihilate God.  Why?  Because we would be gods.  We want to be the centre of the universe and we are not.  We rage not just against the limits of the created order but against the Creator himself. But we do more than raise our fists and curse God.  We crucify him.


The whole point of Holy Week and especially its culmination in the events of Good Friday is to make us see what our sins and betrayals really mean.  God gives himself into our hands so that we can do with him what we will.  What we will is to crucify him.  That is the meaning of Christ’s story from the perspective of our wills.  We contemplate exactly what our willful atheisms actually mean – the attempt to obliterate God from the horizons of our minds and from reality itself.  It is made visible to us in our betrayals of Christ.  He is at once true God and true Man.  In him we see the truth of our humanity, the humanity which we deny in killing him.  In him we see that true humanity lives and dies at one with the will of God.  In him we see that true humanity finds its fulfillment in relation with God through whom we live in relation to one another.  And not otherwise.


What, then, is finished?  Our humanity?  God?  No.  What is finished is all that belongs to the work of human redemption, all that belongs to the divine will to restore our humanity to its end in God, to our atonement, to our being at one with God.  Our telos is with God.  God is with us.  That is the great good news of the Annunciation – “the Lord is with thee”.  But what do we do with the God who is with us?  That is the end of our story, the story of human folly and wickedness.  We crucify God.  We visit upon God nothing less than the whole pageant of human sin and evil.  He bears the sins of the world, past, present and future; the whole meal-deal of human wickedness is portrayed in the crucified Christ.  The whole meaning of all sin, of all evil, is made visible in the crucified Christ.  “It is finished”, says Jesus, meaning that he has borne it all. He has taken upon himself all that belongs to humanity’s rejection of God, our rejection of truth and honour, our rejection of goodness and honesty, our rejection of love and kindness.  Paradoxically, in denying God we deny ourselves.


The good news of Good Friday somehow lies in the realization that in killing God, we kill ourselves.  In the death of Christ, we contemplate the death of ourselves.  But there is even greater good news to Good Friday.  The death of God is the death of death.  Therein lies the full meaning of Christ’s penultimate word, “it is finished”.  In the death of Christ, God has taken not just the idea but the reality of death and suffering into himself, into the heart of God.  Nothing is added to God but everything is changed for our humanity.  Death is changed.  “Death be not proud”, as Donne puts it in a famous sonnet, for “Death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die”


It was the existential prophet Nietzsche who proclaimed that “God is dead”.  He had in mind, I think, the smug complacencies of the nineteenth century middle-class who, in his view, had conflated God and religion with their own material comfort and prosperity.  If God is conflated with the social, economic and political order, then, in effect, there is no God.  God has simply become a cipher for your own will to power.  By the death of God, Nietzsche also meant the complete rejection of the intellectual traditions from Plato onwards, the complete rejection of metaphysics, of the will to truth, we might say.  There is only our willfulness.


But this, too, we are given to see in the crucifixion of Christ.  In the crucified Christ we see the full spectacle of our willfulness.  In him “it is finished”.  But if left simply at that, we would see only the negative side of our “end”.  The telos of our humanity is about an end with God that shall not end and that is something positive.  The will of Christ to bear the full weight and meaning of our willfulness against God and the reality of the created order signals the completion of our humanity, its perfection as found in the will of God, a perfection or end that has gathered death into itself.  “It is finished”, even the consummation of death.


 Out of the suffering and death of Christ, God perfects our humanity.  He makes something out of our will to nothingness.  “It is finished” signals the ultimate truth of our humanity over and against our lies, namely, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.  Outside of that there is only the same old, same old vanity of human wishes and fantasies.  We have no truth apart from the truth of God.  “It is finished” returns us to the truth of God.  It signals the redemption of our humanity, the fulfillment of the divine purpose for our humanity realized through the forms of our rejection of God.  “Then said I, Lo, I come (In the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10. 7). “I have come”, Jesus says, “to do the will of him who sent me”, the will of the Father.


“It is finished”.  God has placed himself in our hands to do with him what we will.  We have had our way with him.  “It is finished”.  He has borne it all.  But this sense of ending only gives way to the last word in the tradition of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”.  Having completed the work of human redemption, he places himself in the hands of the Father.  We are returned to the will of God.  We await what comes from the hands of the Father through the sacrifice of the Son in the will of the Spirit.  We are returned to the hands of God, to our beginnings but only through this ending, “it is finished”.


 “It is finished”