Harrowing Of Hell
March 29, 2013

It is Finished

Preacher: The Rev Kate Wesch

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is finished.  He is dead.  Any way you look at it; Jesus has gone forth to another space.  You can check to see if he’s still breathing, feel for a pulse, see if the warmth has gone out of his body, or even stick a spear in his side.  He is dead.  The struggle is over, and the last words he said were, “It is finished.”

We know these final words and hear them every year, but a little mystery remains.  “IT” is finished, but what is “it”?

The dying is finished and it certainly wasn’t an easy death at that.  Long before lethal injection, execution was raw and excruciating.  First century historian, Josephus describes crucifixion as “the most wretched of deaths.”  And wretched it was, reserved for common criminals, the lowest of the low, outcasts and sinners.

Actually, Jesus probably died of suffocation.  As preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, he died “as his arms gave out and his lungs collapsed under the weight of his sinking body.  Blood loss is another possibility.  Heartbreak is a third.  Whatever finally killed him, it came as a friend and not as an enemy.  Death is not painful.  It is the dying that hurts.”

For Jesus, many things are finished. His time on earth caring for a broken humanity is over.  His physical ministry is over.  No more preaching, teaching, breaking bread, healing the sick, or long walks with his friends. But, for whatever reason, even all of that still wasn’t getting through to them.  Despite the preaching, teaching, breaking bread,     healing the sick and long walks with his friends, they didn’t get it.  So he was forced to do something drastic, something unprecedented, something so big that he had to be willing to put his life on the line and lose it.  “Otherwise why should anyone believe him?”

Jesus made his final act an explosion of love that continues to reverberate through history – the aftershocks of which we feel today.

On the last night of his life, Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).  After saying this to his friends, he left to do it.  Less than twenty-four hours later, it was finished.”

At the same time, another important thing was finished –the entrapments of the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  Jesus ended the Judaism of the temple, but not the Judaism of the people.  What Jesus turned upside down were the careful laws regarding the clean and unclean and the hypocrisy and corruption of the clergy.

But perhaps more importantly, Jesus destroyed the notion of animal sacrifice.

Proving a point that character formation and a change of heart are far more important than spilling an animal’s innocent blood.

The day Jesus died was the feast of the Passover – a holiday marked with the blood of many sacrificed animals. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, a parade of Passover animals entered the Temple.  Inside, their owners slaughtered them while priests caught the blood and poured it on the altar.

And outside in the courtyard, the “corpses were skinned and cleaned according to the Law of Moses while Levites sang psalms of praises to God.”

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s words, “there were two bloody places in Jerusalem that day—Golgotha and the Temple—both attended by powerful religious people who believed they were doing God’s will. Please hear me. This is not about Jews. This is about powerful people in any religious tradition who believe they are doing God’s will. Wherever you encounter them, in whatever time or place, it is best to keep your back to the wall. Power and religion are a lethal mix.”

The political structure was doomed from that time forward.  Jesus, by refusing to acquiesce to the Roman and Jewish authorities, forced their hand, which ended in his crucifixion.

Jesus chose to end things in this way to prove a powerful point – a lesson we are still working to comprehend.

Jesus was a scapegoat – the last sacrificial lamb – made an example of in a twist of ironic fate that led to his infamy instead of his disappearance.  As he toppled the political structures of evil, he rewrote history.  And another chapter was finished.

So many things were finished that day.  Any possible separation between God and Jesus was finished that afternoon.

“When Jesus gave up his spirit, he was not thirsty anymore.  He dove back into the stream of living water from which he had sprung and swam all the way home.”

Like the sacrificial animals in the temple, Jesus left behind a corpse.  But unlike the animals in the Temple, something else is yet to come.  In the darkness of Good Friday, we hold out hope.  Hope – because we know what is coming.  This story isn’t finished.

On that Friday afternoon, God died for love of us.  God came down and dwelt among us.  God loves us to the end.  God – in the person of Jesus- showed us a dangerous new way to live. For Jesus, for the moment, it is finished.  But for us, it is never finished.

Citation: Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon, “It Is Finished.”