Thursday, 17 April 2014

Famous last words?

Easter reflection on John 19:30

It is finished; it has been accomplished; it is done. No longer thirsting, Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Are these famous last words? Do they mark this particular moment as the end of a story, a clear book-end that frames remembrance and reflection so that it doesn’t fade into obscurity?

There is another passage of scripture with profound similarity:

‘The heavens and earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done’ (Genesis 2:1–2).

It is finished; it has been accomplished; it is done. God bowed his head in rest and we are left to reflect on the words, ‘And it was good,’ that clearly book-end the magnificent, completed act.

As our human perspectives on God are animated within time and event, we readily comprehend God’s creative action as a sequence of occurrences. Israel records God’s action as a story playing through the generations, a continuity tracking through time: in the beginning, God created something complete and good; in freedom, humankind falls away; future redemption is anticipated.

In the same way, we hear the phrase ‘it is done’ within such a sequence: some sort of confirmation of a series of events; some conclusion of a particular chapter in a story; a context-contingent settlement taking place. We hear these words as last words.

But we should not be limited by such neat sequences, especially the ordering of biblical literature that places Genesis at the beginning and the good news of Christ toward the end. In suggesting this, I am taking a hint from John the Baptist, who said of Christ: ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me’ (John 1:15). Also Peter: He was destined before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). And similarly, Paul: ‘He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Col 1:17).

With these passages in mind, consider the question: Which came first, the death of Christ or the creation accounted in Genesis? This question does not seek an objective answer but to enrich understanding.

‘It is done.’ God’s revealed creation is completed in the beginning only because it is completed on the cross. Christ reveals himself in and through his creation as one who breathes life into formless void, brings light out of darkness, and graciously gives life that is abundant in all its multitude.

The good news of Christ’s life in the midst of death is intrinsic to God’s creation: the Word that was before all things.

In Christ, all things hold together; in Christ, it is accomplished.       

Samuel Curkpatrick 2014

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