Seven Last Words 07


"It is finished" - John 19:30.

From the beginning of time, when we were given the freedom to love and not to love, this death was inevitable, bearing within itself divine and human responsibility. From the sin of Adam to the proclamation of John Baptist via the dramatic history of the Chosen People, it has come to this. The sacrifice by the Faithful Abraham of his son, averted by God's intervention, confronts the grandeur of David and Solomon. All the fear and hope of the prophets has come to this. The whole activity of the whole world from beginning to end, all the good and bad choices, all the false starts, all the unfinished enterprises, all the glass that has been smeared and broken, have come to this, to this single, solitary point of flesh on a cross in occupied Palestine. And all the music that has lifted us above ourselves, all the prayers, all the hands joined in supplication and raised in triumph, all the inspiration that has lifted us out of baseness into animation, all of the striving for Heavenly light generated by God's grace, flows from this point, from the reservoir of Our Saviour's Blood.

Last year I was walking quietly up a flight of steps. I passed through a narrow doorway and Father John said: "We are here." I crawled on my knees the few feet to the place where the cross stood, and thought: "It all comes down to this. To this tiny, physical space; everything comes down to this."

"It is finished." At the simplest level, the life of Jesus is finished. The life of a man who walked the land of Palestine for three years, preaching a Gospel of Love, is finished. The enterprise of fellowship which He built up has almost disintegrated. The man who was the friend of everyone, even - particularly - sinners, has been abandoned. Jesus knows this. His statement, at the simplest level, is obvious.

"It is finished". At a deeper level the history of the Chosen People from Adam to Jesus is finished. There is no genealogy past the cross. The line of faithfulness and faltering has ended at this gruesome place. There is a final act to come but Jesus does not know this. The most He could know was that He had acted in obedience to His father for the forgiveness of sins and that Adam's debt, in some mysterious way, had been paid.

"It is finished", at its deepest level, encompasses the ultimate act of forgiveness. The purpose of the incarnation has been worked out in the Crucifixion. At the deepest level, everything human and divine is concentrated in this battered human frame.

At the root of our thought, of our ability to grasp what is going on, there is a paradox of failure and success, of tragedy and triumph which we try to deal with through our earthly expressiveness. There is nothing more haunting than a cross made of gold, nothing more poignant than blood celebrated in rubies. There is so much that we want to say and we have so few means to say what we want. The love of gold and rubies which killed Our Saviour celebrate His death.

Why is this important, now, at this minute? Because if we only do this now, once in a year, we have to flex ourselves out of thinking of this moment as the end of a story and flex ourselves into the story. This story is not about the relationship between Our Saviour and us, it is the story of Our Saviour and us. We are a part of the story as murderers and, mysteriously, we are part of the story as captives freed. If only once a year, now, we need to bring ourselves to feel ourselves as both of these things and then to fuse them into one wholeness in our hearts. We are not simply to think of murder and not simply to think of freedom, we are to think of the freedom granted to murderers, to us.

Our means are slight; and often when we try to think, our minds are crowded with two thousand years of culture, of music and painting, of meditations and narratives, of proverbs and prayers. All the images take us away from enactment; we think we are watching when we are doing. We need to understand our freedom and responsibility and where they have led, to this single point in space and time.

Let us stop for a few moments and focus on the fused idea of ourselves as murderers freed.

One of the reasons why this is so difficult for us is that we cannot hide from ourselves what was hidden from the dying Jesus. Stretching for the future, before He has been placed in the tomb, we see Him in the middle distance, rising.

But that is our strength and our weakness; we are not satisfied with the present.

And yet to survive the perils of earthly life, to bloom now and again, to reach that Heavenly light, we should live in the shadow of the Cross. For the more bitter the soil with blood, the more rich and frequent the bloom; the deeper the shadow, the brighter the light. For our soul's sake, for our survival's sake, we need to look as deeply into ourselves as we can to recognise the divine conditions which have made us human and the human condition which makes us divine; and the hinge of this human/divine symmetry is the cross on which hangs the dead Jesus who took human flesh and put aside His Godhead so that we might know not just intellectually and theologically, that we have been saved; but to know it in our hearts, in our blood, in our pain.

Let the noise of the crowd fade. Let the turmoil of the past week settle. Let the terrible torment come to an end. There is nothing more to be done now. There are many things we could have done better; but there is nothing to be done now. It is time to stand still. If we know how to - and it is never easy - it is time to pray.

the minutes go by and, as the final drops of blood fall to the ground, as the lance pierces His side to produce a tiny drop of blood and a weeping of water, it is easy to be melodramatic; but the drama is too great for that. This is no time for sentimentality, it is the time for seeing death and salvation with the clear eyes of responsibility and freedom. The whole world from the beginning to the end of time, is narrowed down to this single point; and so must our lives be. We were born to stand at the cross, to choose to stand at the cross because sometimes we make wrong choices. We stand for ourselves and, as part of the mystery of the Body of Christ, we stand on behalf of the world's wrong choices. We are privileged to suffer; we bear the Christian responsibility of being here on behalf of all those who are not here. For just a fraction of time we have to bear the weight of this sorry death.

For now, for just a moment, there is nowhere else to go. For just a moment as we stand with Mary, Jesus is our dead child.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as You hang upon the Cross at the end of Your incarnational mission, we are sorry that we have lived irresponsibly as if You were not among us; may we remain at the foot of the Cross so that we, nourished by Your blood as the reservoir from which all Grace flows, be true disciples worthy to join You in Your heavenly home. Amen.