7th Word From the Cross: ‘It Is Finished’
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When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (John 19:30-34)
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
The final word from the Cross. It is finished. Jesus is not passive. He is the priest offering the sacrifice. As he told Pilate, earthly kings have no power over him unless the Father permits it. He is also the victim, not passive like a bull or goat, but a Son obedient to the will of the Father. Jesus works, as his Father continues to work. Jesus decides when the work is finished, and now the work is finished. Jesus has done what he was sent to do, and now declares it finished.
Jesus sleeps now on the Cross. But he sees it all. And while he sleeps he does not abandon us. He sleeps, but he will awake, and he will say that word that calms the storm which tosses the ship of faith.
In his final audience in February 2013, Benedict XVI returned to one of his favorite biblical images, that of Jesus asleep in the boat, an image both troubling and consoling:
The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds... as if God was sleeping. But I always knew that God was in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, is not ours, but is his and he will not let it sink.
Benedict addressed a vast crowd in St. Peter’s Square on that occasion. In the 350-plus year history of St. Peter’s Square, it has seen immense congregations for historic events. There has never been an event though like the special Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis on March 27. The great expanse of St. Peter’s Square was empty. The Holy Father on that occasion chose a challenging text. The same text about Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm at sea.
Pope Francis chose the same passage as Benedict did. But his emphasis was not on the power of the Lord Jesus, even when apparently asleep, to calm the tempest. Rather, he made the refrain of his homily the rebuke Jesus addresses to his disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Lord, your word this evening strikes us,” Pope Francis said. “Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’ …You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing.
This time of pandemic is a time of choosing.
There are plenty of comforting passages in the scriptures suitable for a pandemic. I frankly doubt that any other bishop in the world would have chosen for a time of global pandemic: Have you no faith?
It might even seem a bit harsh. Pope Francis though is a longtime director of souls, who knows when to ask difficult questions, to challenge, to “convince, rebuke and exhort” as St. Paul advises Timothy (2 Tim 4:2). And so he clarified for the Church that this is a time of choosing.
Do we choose to be “self-sufficient?” the Holy Father asks us. Do we recognize that “by ourselves we flounder?” Above all, do we in these days realize that “we are in need of salvation?”
“Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation,” said Pope Francis. The deepest reality of the pandemic is to remind us that we need to be saved, that we cannot save ourselves, but that we do have a Savior.
The soul, troubled and anxious in the midst of peril and suffering, does not need a confirmation that this is a vale of tears. That is evident. He needs instead to be shown Jesus, always present, who now asks: Why are you afraid?
The Holy Father insists, gently but firmly, that fear is not the Christian response to a pandemic. Fear must give way to faith and hope. Or as St. John writes: “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18). It is hard to find perfect love in this world. It is hard to find perfect love in our own hearts. Perfect love is easy to find in only one place — on Calvary.
After his meditation, addressing that empty St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis then adored the Most Blessed Sacrament and, taking up the monstrance, extended the blessing of Jesus, died and risen, to the city and to the world. Where does the Most Blessed Sacrament, where do the sacraments, come from? From the pierced side of Jesus. He declares that it is finished and then his side is pierced. Blood and water flow out and the sacramental life of the Church begins. And so the Holy Father, taking the Most Blessed Sacrament, blessed the city and the world in the darkness and in the rain of that Friday evening.
It will remain, 500 years from now, one of the most poignant moments ever to take place in St. Peter’s Square. That Friday evening in the rain and in the darkness began on a Friday afternoon when the side of the Savior was opened and the sacramental life of the Church poured forth. A darkness covered the land on that Friday afternoon too.
The Vicar of Christ gave to the city and to the world the gift of Christ himself, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Divine Physician who brings the gift of healing. All over the world, in our homes, watching on television or the internet, we blessed ourselves.
Christ’s Vicar gave us Christ in our homes. Pope Francis knew that this year, we needed the Lord Jesus in our homes. For this year, the Lord Jesus tells us:
In your house I shall celebrate the Passover.
It is finished.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.