“It is finished!” —John 19:30
In His seventh and final “word” from the Cross, Christ will explicitly address His Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In His fifth “word,” Jesus most immediately addressed the soldiers, though His words obviously have a much wider application: “I thirst.”
Here, in His sixth “word,” Christ testifies to anyone who will hear. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). Let all hear the singular truth to which the Son of God bears witness, as “the glow of life decays” within the Sacred Heart, that furnace of divine charity: “It is finished!”
Consummatum est. There are different senses in which we can speak of a thing being finished. Sometimes, we say with a sigh of relief, “Okay, that’s finished,” when we’re just glad to have gotten something out of the way.
We might also say, “It’s finished,” when we’ve worked to bring an end to something bad or evil. We’re all waiting, for example, for that blessed day when we can say that the ordeal we’re in because of the Coronavirus is finished. This sense brings us closer to what Our Lord meant on the Cross, but we’re not quite there yet.
Consummatum est. It is consummated. It is complete. It is fulfilled. It is accomplished. Something has ended, but something has also begun!
What seems to be ended is Christ Himself. He is finished! This man, whoever men have judged Him to be—teacher or wonder-worker, madman or deceiver of the people, Son of Man or Son of God—it looks like He’s come to the end of His story, and a brutal, ugly, pathetic end at that.
The pow’r of death comes o’er you,
The glow of life decays,
Yet angel hosts adore you,
And tremble as they gaze.
To what secret are the angels privy? The secret that keeps the Queen of Angels fixed at the feet of her Son:
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” —Luke 1:31-33
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” —Luke 2:34-35
They remain, and they adore, as the unthinkable unfolds before them: the death of the Son of God. He Who by His nature as God could not die has taken a nature capable of death from this woman. He Who was indestructible and through Whom took place the very opposite of destruction, the creation of all things, has given Himself over to destruction.
He appears to be finished, but He does not speak of Himself. He refers to an “it.” In all of Scripture, in all of literature of any kind and of any age, there is no word packed with more power per letter than this seemingly insignificant pronoun, “it.”
What is “it?” “It” is the very heart of all reality, what St. John Henry Newman calls the heart of religion. “It” is the atoning Sacrifice of the Son of God for the salvation of the world. “It” is the Sacrifice to which the Letter to the Hebrews (10:11-14) testifies:
Every other priest stands ministering day by day, and offering again and again those same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But Jesus offered the one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are placed beneath his feet. By one offering he has forever perfected those who are being sanctified.
It is the “heart” of everything in the fullest sense of the biblical use of the word “heart.” The heart is the core of the person. It is the locus of freedom, of decision, of commitment. The heart is the source of life and of love. It is almost synonymous with the self.
The “it” of Christ’s Sacrifice is the perfect fulfillment, the apex of human freedom. It is the accomplishment of all that freedom promises. It is the unfathomably deep and powerful expression of that love which is the very substance of God’s being. Christ’s Sacrifice is linked inextricably with His identity. He is the Lamb of God, the Lamb Who was slain.
Christ’s Sacrifice is the consummation of all of salvation history. From Adam to Abraham, from Moses to David, from Isaiah to John the Baptist, everyone looks ahead to Christ. Everyone says, in substance if not in words, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
All of them speak a partial truth, but He Who is truth, the truth, comes to testify to the truth. Christ has just told Pilate that the very reason He has come into this world was to testify to the truth. “What is truth,” Pilate asks, and without Pilate’s cynicism we can ask his question. What is truth? “It is finished.”
The Sacrifice of the Son of God, which saves us from sin and death. That is truth. That is the truth of truths, the truth to which all of the truths of our lives are subordinate, in which they find their meaning.
It is also the truth that animates our lives; it gives us life. We speak of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life” because it is the sacramental representation of Calvary, which is the summit of salvation history and the source of the life of the Church and of every believer.
The Passion of Christ, St. Thomas and others tell us, is the source of all grace. Even those who don’t know Christ but receive any kind of grace, receive that grace from its one source. “It” is definitively singular. There is no other. Nothing stands alongside of it. “It,” to quote Newman again, is the measure of all things.
“It” is the key that undoes the shackles of sin and unlocking the door to life. It is the lens through which all of reality can be viewed and understood. Love and hate, good and evil, tragedy and comedy, sickness and health, life and death—only the Cross of Christ makes sense of the human drama. It might be scandal to some and foolishness to others, as St. Paul tells us, but it is the power and the wisdom of God.
O crux fidelis! O spes unica! The faithful Cross is the one hope of the nations and of each of our lives. A cross is the one thing Jesus tells His followers to carry with them on life’s journey. The Cross is the one watchtower from which you can see both Eden and the Heavenly Jerusalem—the scenes of Genesis and Revelation—and everything in-between.
This is a difficult year for all of us, but the worst has already happened. There can be nothing worse than the death of God. Yet His death has become the source of life and victory for us who believe in Him. We have nothing to fear. We have everything to hope for. It is finished!
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