ACCORDING TO JOHN, the last words Jesus spoke from the cross were, "It is finished." Whether he meant "finished" as brought to an end, in the sense of finality, or "finished" as brought to completion, in the sense of fulfillment, nobody knows. Maybe he meant both.
What was brought to an end was of course nothing less than his life. The Gospels make no bones about that. He died as dead as any man. All the days of his life led him to this day, and beyond this day there would be no other days, and he knew it. It was finished now, he said. He was finished. He had come to the last of all his moments, and because he was conscious still—alive to his death—maybe, as they say the dying do, he caught one final glimpse of the life he had all but finished living.
Who knows what he glimpsed as that life passed before him. Maybe here and there a fragment preserved for no good reason like old snapshots in a desk drawer: the play of sunlight on a wall, a half-remembered face, something somebody said. A growing sense perhaps of destiny: the holy man in the river, a gift for prayer, a gift for moving simple hearts. One hopes he remembered good times, although the Gospels record few—how he once fell asleep in a boat as a storm was coming up, and how he went to a wedding where water was the least of what was turned into wine. Then the failures of the last days, when only a handful gathered to watch him enter the city on the foal of an ass—and those very likely for the wrong reasons. The terror that he himself had known for a few moments in the garden, and that finally drove even the handful away. Shalom then, the God in him moving his swollen lips to forgive them all, to forgive maybe even God. Finished.
What was brought to completion by such a life and such a death only he can know now, wherever he is, if he is anywhere. The Christ of it is beyond our imagining. All we can know is the flesh and blood of it, the Jesus of it. In that sense, what was completed was at the very least a hope to live by, a mystery to hide our faces before, a shame to haunt us, a dream of holiness to help make bearable our night.
-Originally published in Beyond Words