“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
As he hung there on the cross, that torturous Roman instrument of death, the weight of his body bearing down on those nails that pierced his hands and feet, beaten and bloodied, he inhaled and with his final breath said, “It is finished.” I tell you, this small phrase is so vast and so deep that its treasures will never be exhausted. More was said in this one breath than has been said since and could ever be said. For in this phrase we get a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the gospel, that is, of God’s sacrificial and holy love for the whole wide world, and for you and I. Behold, Christ Jesus nailed to the cross! Behold the servant of the Lord in all his glory, exalted and lifted up (Is. 52:13)! Hear the broken cry of victory from his lips: “It is finished.” The redeeming work of God, here brought to completion. Mission accomplished.
Canon Beth ended her homily by drawing our attention to the very first words of John’s gospel: “In the beginning…” in order to help us make the connection between Christ’s Passion and the Garden of Eden. Indeed, our lengthy gospel reading this morning begins where? In a garden (18:1). And where does it end? In a tomb that was in a garden (19:41-42).
She then gestured towards Adam in order to suggest that Christ is for us the New Adam—the man. Indeed, some of the earliest Christians identified the place of Jesus’ crucifixion with the burial place of Adam. Thus, portrayals of the crucifixion quite often feature a skull at the base of the cross. The new Adam, Jesus, brings salvation to the old Adam through his sacrificial love poured out on the cross. “It is finished.” In the next few moments I want to pick up this theme and explore it further.
“Then God said, “Let us make man (adam) in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,” (Genesis 1:26). God makes man (the Hebrew word there is adam from which we get Adam) and sets them in the garden. Why? To take it, all of it, and offer it back to God in praise and thanksgiving. That is, Adam was a priest and the whole earth was his offering. The gift received in love was to be offered back in reciprocal love, the glorious unity of God and man. Only, that didn’t happen. The sin of Adam was to reject the giver of the gift, it was to take the gift and seek it for itself, quite apart from the giver. No giving thanks. No offering it back. No union of love. But this gift was nothing less than the very life of man, the rejection of which meant death. The words that we opened with this morning describe the sin of Adam: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”
The union between God and man, the union of sacrificial love, was up-ended and exchanged for the dis-union of enmity and strife. Adam was unable to finish the priestly work that he was made to do and thus unable to grow up into and attain to that perfect unity of sacrificial love, of giving and receiving, of laying down ones will for the will of the other, with God.
And so, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned,” (5:12). Adam’s prideful self-assertion of his own will over the will of the God who loved him and who he was made to love in return was a plague that left no corner of creation untouched: “and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” We are Adam and he is us.
However—somebody say, however. However, Jesus Christ comes into the midst of our enslavement to sin and death and he comes as the new Adam, and as the man identifies with us fully in the decay of our sin, though he himself was without sin. He comes as priest to take all of creation, every last mangled and death-kissed bit of it, up into his own obedient offering to the Father.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain,” (Is. 53:10). And Jesus was crushed as Isaiah continues: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth,” (Is.).
And Jesus did this not reluctantly but joyfully. Indeed, Jesus thirsts to do this. “I am thirsty,” he says from the cross. Thirsty for what? Thirsty to drink the cup that his Father had given him to drink (18:11). And notice also, Jesus does not passively die, the victim. No, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (19:30). He gave it up, his final priestly offering that brought all other offerings to an end.
The gift given, and received, and returned, eternally. And this love, unites God and man forever in an inseparable union. The new Adam brings to fulfillment what the old Adam was unable to. “It is finished.”
Why? For us. “He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). His wounds – your healing. His death – your life: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,” (Is. 53:11). “Therefore,” writes St. Paul, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:18-19). That second verse from To Mock Your Reign comes to mind: “They did not know as we do now, that though we merit blame / you will your robe of mercy throw, around our naked shame.” As Christ covered Adam’s sham so he covers ours.
The blood of Christ, the new Adam, as it dropped from the cross, washed away the sins of the buried one, the first Adam (Jerome). This is why the death of Christ on the cross is a victory rather than a defeat, because in his death he subverts death, undoes death, turns it on its head so that life and freedom might come flooding in. “It is finished.”
The blood of Christ washes away your sins as well. How? How do we receive this gift? How are we made new? What is required of you and I? Some sort of effort, some doing, some further sacrifice perhaps?
No! What is required of us is not something that we can do—salvation is not a matter of self-improvement. What is required of us is the end of our doing, the end of self-improvement—what is required of us is nothing less and nothing more than to die with Christ.
When Christ’s side is pierced two things flow out, water and blood. The water is the water of baptism. The Crucifixion is Christ’s baptism and when we are baptized it is into Christ’s death on the cross. Baptism is a martyrdom. Indeed, many early fonts were in the shape of a cross. In the water of baptism God takes our life and joins it to the life of his Son on the cross so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20) This is a matter of fact and we will witness just this on Sunday when Avi and Lillian are presented for baptism.
The blood that spills out of Christ’s side is the blood of the New Covenant which was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins”. This is the cup of wine which we share in the Eucharist. Christ’s blood, shed for us. And in consuming Christ’s broken body and blood in the Eucharist we in all of our brokenness are nourished by Christ himself and made his body, to be broken and poured out for the world. And so, in baptism and the Eucharist Christ’s death is made present to us in a very real way, and our common life takes on the shape of the cross.
As we behold Christ lifted up on the cross here this morning, as we approach the cross shortly, may we behold the New Adam, the one whose loving obedience, whose whole life, was a priestly offering of love for us. The one whose death washed away our sin, repairing the breach in communion between God and man. The tree of defeat has become for us the tree of victory. Come, let us adore the tree of the cross and eat of it’s fruit. Amen.