It Is Finished
A Sermon Preached by the Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson
St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
St. Paul, MN 55102
April 18, 2014 at Noon and 7:00 pm
Like my father before me, I am something of a habitual project starter, but not a project finisher. His garage was, and now my own is, littered with the remains of ambitious projects begun but never completed. For him it was the endless task of sorting the odd bits of detritus that gathered like fallen leaves on the workbenches and shelves, the fishing lure collection, the scattered remains of nails and screws and bolts of projects past, the tools that seemed to be in perpetual exodus from their peg board and tool box. The project of organizing and reorganizing the mess meant that our family garage never had room for a vehicle.
And, every so many years, I, who had neither the ability nor the gumption to finish my own projects and schemes, would endeavor instead to finish my father’s project and I would undertake the task of organizing his garage. For some reason it always seems easier to de-clutter another’s life rather than face the chaos of one’s own. So I would wade in and begin to slog through the work of fixing that which wasn’t mine to fix, the work of finishing something that I hadn’t the will nor the power to finish in my own life.
A few weeks after my father’s death, still in the clutches of the rawest grief, after a memorial service and funeral, after committing his ashes to the deep, and I stood in his garage yet again, surrounded by the clutter of his life, and attempted one last time to finish the project – attempted the impossible task of untying the knots that were my anguish. There was something…there IS something, deeply satisfying about the doing– rendered helpless in the face of his death, it felt soothing to be able to control something, in the midst of my grief, to pick up the pieces and put them where they were meant to be.
But, as most of you can attest, wholeness rarely comes from without, from the doing, from the mission accomplished. Our striving for fulfillment through goals and projects, through experiences and accomplishments, is always a fruitless endeavor. We cannot fix the pain and untie the anguish by doing, by striving and achieving.
We must confess this or we are lost.
As the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal described, part of what defines the human condition is indeed this reality of our incompleteness. Pascal is remembered as having said that each of us is created with “a God-shaped hole,” a lack in our essential selves that seeks ever to find its wholeness, but that can only be filled by God. This evening, presented with our inability to be finished, Jesus unties the knots, releases the guilt, and declares that “IT is finished.” And thus uttered, Pascal’s words might be justifiably altered, ever so slightly, to instead say that each of us is created with a ‘cross-shaped’ hole. For, it is that lack, which we so often attempt to fill through external objects and accomplishment, that Jesus filled on that horrible day at Golgotha, at the Cross.
Here was a man who lived his whole life in utmost reliance on God, trusting that it was God and God alone who could give him life and peace and happiness and wholeness. As John’s gospel tells us, Jesus called his followers to abide in his love, just as he abides in his Father’s love. The ministry that Jesus pursued, the kingdom he proclaimed was just such an interconnection and abiding – we in him and he in us, whole, complete, finished.
And, in this way, Jesus died as he lived, not so much in the doing for, but in the being with. In the cross we see the fullest example of his entering into our lives, the humbling truth that he joined us in the pain, joined us in our suffering humanity, did not resist death, or magically zap it away. Indeed, his entering into our lives was such a powerful witness that it compels us, it draws us inexorably one to another, to give thanks at the foot of his cross – to give thanks not only for what he has done for us, but for what he has done with us.
This was his victory, if we can call it that, what we celebrate on this Good day, on this the best and most glorious of Fridays – that thing which we often struggle to see from our vantage, obscured by the worries and woes of life – that in him and in his Cross we are reconciled one to another and we are reconciled to God. We are made whole. High up on the cross, Jesus looked out over the huddled humanity and though they could not, and sometimes we cannot see, he drew all of humanity to himself, reconciling us as a new community, and he proclaimed in a voice that can be heard for all times. It is finished.