Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Hosea 6:1-6 / Exodus 12:1-11 / John 18:1-40; 19:1-42

Consummatum est. It is finished. It's over. It's done.

Whether we are happy or not to hear those words depends a great deal on what it is that has been finished. After an examination at university, or a root canal, or an interrogation by the police, we are no doubt delighted to hear those words. Whatever the outcome, we would not want to go through that again. Indeed, we would like to imagine that the world would forget the whole thing and move on to happier thoughts. On the other hand, at the end of a well-performed play, or having finished a particularly enjoyable book, when the lights come up at the end of a dance, or when the proprietor of a public house hollers out for the last call, we mourn the end. We might wish, if we could, to stay in those moments that have now come to an end. Whatever the outcome, we would trade whatever the world has to offer to go back to that time that is now finished. However, whether sad or merry, these folk see finishing as a kind of ending, the passing of something which will never be again, whose reality will pass into history with ever lessening impact on the present.

There is another kind occasion for calling out Consummatum est. When an artist steps back from his canvas and sees that not one more bit of paint need be added, when an author looks at the manuscript and sees that not one more word should be written, when a chef has put the final touch on the dessert — in these and many occasions like them, the finishing is not an end, but rather a beginning. To finish a painting is not the end, but the beginning of art's true flourishing, even as to have prepared a meal finds its completion not in the display on the table, but on the satisfied diners.

When Jesus cried out Conummatum est from the Cross, he was not letting out a sigh of relief to have endured the Passion to a painful end, but an end nonetheless. True as it is that Jesus dies no more and death has no more dominion over him, this was not the kind of finishing he had in mind. Rather, like a painting, a novel, or a banquet, what Jesus finishes on the Cross is something which, from that point on, begins to be what his whole earthly ministry had been building up from the time of his Incarnation. On the Cross, having endured all the betrayal, brutality, and shame, being in the end exposed to the heart-piercing pain of witnessing his mother's grief, Jesus does not end his work, but begins it, begins that new life, that new sharing in the life of the blessed Trinity that his whole coming to the world had meant to offer us.

We are told often enough that we need to move from Golgotha to the empty Tomb, and there is much wisdom in that claim. Even so, we are mistaken to see on that awful Tree only death and desolation, only barren wood from which nothing living can come forth. No, the Cross is not a place of endings, but a place of beginnings, a place of completing the preparations he had intended from before the dawn of time. It is the place of our birth, from the blood and water flowing from his side. It is where the glory of our God was manifest to the world, and for it we are rightly not mourning, but glad.

Faithful Cross! above all other, one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest Wood, and sweetest Iron, Sweetest Weight is hung on thee.

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