John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
A great deal has been written and spoken about this verse, including by me, but the thing that strikes me most at the moment is the relief Jesus must have felt at being able to do this. We tend to cling to physical life as long as possible, and we desire and expect others to do so as well. One of the stages of grief is anger, often at the one who has died for not staying around longer. How selfish! Especially when someone is young, or relatively so, we tend to think, and say, “How much they have missed!” It doesn’t occur to us that, if they are in Christ, what they have gone to leaves everything they have “missed” in the dust! We have such a low view of eternity! Of all the people who have died, Jesus alone knew exactly what He was going to. That on top of the incredible suffering he had experienced in the hours leading up to this moment must have made this moment sweet indeed. I can hardly imagine the sense of accomplishment He must have had, because what He had finished (the Japanese says “completed”) was salvation for all mankind, available to all who would receive it in faith. We tend to equate death with failure and defeat, but sometimes, and certainly here, it is glorious victory. Right now we are all worked up over the many for whom COVID-19 has been the agent of their death, but we forget that everyone dies at some point – probably because we don’t want to face the reality that we will do so as well. It is not up to us to decide when that point is, for ourselves or for others. That is why suicide and euthanasia, not to mention murder, are wrong. Medicine, allowing long and productive lives on this earth, is hardly a bad thing, but it is ultimately stop-gap. What is far more important is where and how we spend eternity.
As a pastor I have been involved with death probably more than the average person. I have seen widows, particularly, quite angry at their recently deceased husbands for leaving them behind. And that has been the case even with some fairly strong Christians! For one of those, however, that anger very quickly dissipated, and she was deeply grateful when I conducted her husband’s funeral as a victory celebration. I think I was still fairly young when I realized that funerals are really for those left behind, far more than they are for the deceased. We desire and need a sense of closure, and funerals assist with that. I have been to Buddhist funerals for people whom I knew had committed themselves to Christ before they died, and I knew that the religious trappings made no difference at all to those people. My parents both died in the US while I was in Japan, but since their ashes are buried in Japan, I was able to attend their burials. They both died relatively young, my father at 64 and my mother at 72, but I have great assurance that they were both able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) They too could say, as Jesus did, “It is completed,” meaning their task on earth. It is my prayer that I will be able to do the same.
Father, thank You for this reminder of all that Easter means. We tend to focus on the resurrection, but there can be no resurrection without death. Thank You for removing the fear of death from me. Help me be increasingly effective in imparting that faith to others, so that we may walk together in the victory of the cross, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!