Holy Week Reflection
“It is Finished.”
-Jesus from the Cross
My friend Jeff was 52-years old, happily married with two young children. Sadly, but valiantly, he fought brain cancer for over a year and truly embodied the phrase “Carpe Diem.” An avid cook of gumbo, a daring skier of steep peaks in Wyoming, filled with a wanderlust for travel, a loyal friend, a faithful father and husband, all with a contagious, sometimes wicked sense of humor! But what I really admired about him was his love for the word “Hope.” He loved to hear it, say it, and especially feel it down in his soul bones. During the Sunday service, he sat left side five rows back, and would give me this lift of his chin if I had yet to make a proclamation of hope. Jeff knew the word “hope” holds all together and gives us the courage to bravely step forward whatever comes our way. One day, Jeff said, “Farrell, promise me you’ll never stop saying it!” Two weeks ago, Jeff went in for a routine blood draw and scans. He was the first “human” in the world to try a new experimental treatment at Sara Cannon Cancer Center for glioblastoma. But the oncologist said the dreaded words: It is finished Jeff. The tumors had grown. The clinical trial had failed. There was nothing left to do. Hospice was called in. My heart clutched for Jeff and for all who loved him. His time was up. One day we too will hear those grim words: It is finished.
The poet Emily Dickinson articulates our fate in Poem 479:
Because I could not stop for Death—He Kindly stopped for me—
The carriage held just ourselves—And Immortality.
Note that Dickinson capitalizes Immortality in the poem for welcome emphasis. She, like Jeff, loved to hear the word hope.
There is no cure for mortality. Golgotha is in my future and yours. As did Jesus, we will experience that terrifying reckoning of body and spirit; a definitive break of what was before and what will be. Jesus modeled for us the trepidation, the paralyzing fear, the grief, the doubt, the pain— and the ultimate surrender—of letting go of our humanity to take on our immortality.
There is much to glean from Jesus’ final three words on the cross: It is finished. A human lament and a divine declaration. Jesus was briefly overcome with sadness that his divine mission here on earth had come to an end. He knew what a noble, worthy experience it is to be human in God’s world. I can just imagine in those suffering hours on the cross that he found himself running through a litany of all the things he would miss and the things he wished he had more time to experience and accomplish. More sermons to preach, healings and miracles to transform lives, radical changes to be made in the flawed institutions of the day. Maybe he grieved never to see another spring in Jerusalem with all the blooming almond trees. How difficult it must have been for Jesus to say goodbye to those he loved and intimately shared his life on earth: Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, his devoted confidant, James, his brother, Peter, his destined leader, dear Lazarus and the Mary sisters, John, his loyal and the beloved disciple. All that divine love he still had in him to give. Finished. No more breaking bread, sharing wine, laughing, making plans on earth. Finished. No more sunsets, the salty fragrance of the sea, of lavender and rosemary, no more the tasting of olive oil dripping from fresh out-of-the-oven bread or the enjoying of a ripe summer peach, its juice dripping from the chin. Finished. No more music filling every cell in the body so the spirit levitates within its mortal frame. Finished. No more embraces, or kisses, or hearing of the words, I love you… With a big sigh, he accepted it is finished.
Can I raise a crucifix skyward, or string a necklace of garlic around my neck, or run to the edge of the earth and hide, so Death cannot find me or you? Some days I am overwhelmed by my inevitable fate. If only I could keep the bliss and end the brutal. (Hmmm, isn’t that heaven?).
What if “It is Finished” was Jesus’ final but wonderful declaration? Darkness, all unfairness, injustice and cruelty, suffering and death has a definitive endpoint. No matter how broken the world, how often we turn our backs on the sacred, love to crown ourselves rulers over our destinies and even that of others—Love just won’t have it! And Jesus knew it!
I want to look out to the pew where Jeff would have been sitting on Easter morning, and I want to say the word “hope” and mean it. The truth is one day you and I will hear the same words, “It is finished.” “Nothing left to do.” “The end is here.” Will hope taste like ash on my tongue or will it set me free? In the secret of my heart and yours, we will have to decide if we trust God. Can Can I trust God with all that I am, all whom I love, and a future unknown to me. Can I trust in a Divine Plan that has been in motion for billions of years, a plan that reveals in small and grand ways God’s intention of resurrection and new life? Can I trust in God’s imagination, an imagination that conceived the perfume of the peony, the blue green salted sea, the tiny yet mighty hummingbird, the one-of-a-kind fingerprint, stars that shine, then explode, my hilarious, little “Spider Man” six-year-old son Finn—to provide a heaven for me and for you? Can I trust in a magnificent Love to see me through the dark and scary to enter a marvelous divine “next”? Can I trust that Easter will follow Good Friday for me too?
“Hope!” I said it! But if an honest, it comes with an addendum, more a prayer, today, and probably every day until I take my last breath:
“Dear God, I trust. Help me when I waver.”