Originally published at Covenant, April 24, 2015.
Each year after Easter, like most clerics, I suspect, I am almost overwhelmed by weariness. The events of the previous week take their toll, and I am in dire need of what one colleague called a “solemn high nap.” There is a fittingness to this feeling. Hans Urs von Balthasar described the first intimations of the Lord’s Resurrection precisely in terms of weariness. The Resurrection, he said:
is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. (Heart of the World, 152)
Such thoughts draw out the intimate connection between the Cross and the Resurrection, already noticed at the earliest possible moment by the angel whom the women encounter at the tomb: “You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here … ” (Matthew 28:5-6). And the connection is a lasting one. In the Apocalypse of John, the Lord makes it again, emphatically: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:17-18).
Leo the Great said, rather starkly, that the Lord’s suffering “is prolonged until the end of time” (Sermon 70). The dynamism of Good Friday transcends Easter. Indeed, in a certain sense, it is Easter that gives the Cross its power, its sublimity, that keeps Good Friday from being what it ought to be: a particularly brutal tragedy.
But something comes to an end on Good Friday. Jesus’ sixth “word” from the Cross (by the traditional reckoning) is: “It is finished.” What does he mean? What is finished in that moment of the Lord’s death?
Before considering what this word might mean, we must first consider what it does notmean. It is not, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas in Cross-shattered Christ, “a death gurgle.” Jesus is not saying “All is lost; I am done for; game over.” “It is finished” connotes rather it being fulfilled, it being accomplished — “it” being the work that the Son became incarnate in order to accomplish. The earthly life of the Son of Man is finished. The dregs have been drained from the cup of death.
But this is the sixth of seven words. There is more to be said.
In the Latin Vulgate, this word (“It is finished”) is translated consummatum est – it is consummated. Thus we hear in this word also a reminder that Jesus is the Bridegroom, and that by his Incarnation, he has taken to himself a bride. The attentive witness might find St. Paul’s words from Ephesians echoing in his ears: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). But the bride that Christ has taken to himself is more than simply “the Church” as we are accustomed to construe it. In another place Paul says that “in Christ God was reconciling the whole cosmos to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, Jesus quoted Genesis to them:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Hearing this word from the Cross, “It is consummated,” we stand with the ten wise virgins and attend to the cry, “Alleluia! Behold the Bridegroom!” (cf. Matthew 25), going up at the midnight of the world. And it dawns on us that the Son of God is the one who “left his Father’s house” in heaven, and “his mother’s house” on earth, and was joined to a wife, and that wife is human nature — the nature of the being that God made in the beginning to be the Priest-King of the whole creation.
Jesus’ ministry in the world, up to the Cross, had been, as it were, a betrothal. But the Cross is the consummation of the union of divine nature and human nature. The two have become one flesh on the nuptial bed of the Cross. And so the estrangement of man from God is what “is finished.” God and man are no longer two, but one flesh, in the body of the God-man, Jesus. And we are the fruit of that union, being born of the water and the blood flowing from the Son of God.
This is the Passion, the ecstasy, that transcends Easter, that becomes dynamically progenerative in virtue of Easter, and lasts until the great and final “It is finished,” at the end of time:
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:6-7)