I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. At least I thought I was.
And not just because, like Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, I have many leatherbound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany. I had my moment of self-absorption when someone pointed out that my blog had more hits than other Episcopal clergy. I was so very impressed with myself…until it dawned on me that Episcopal clergy blogs are small potatoes. A mommy blogger got as many hits on a post about overcoming postpartum with a well-timed Lilly Pulitzer dress purchase as I had in 3 years of posting. I’m not mocking mommy blogs. Once the great writing was found in political commentary and pulpits. Today, much of the great writing is on mommy blogs. Mommy bloggers highlight the beauty and make simple the complexity of our lives in 500 words. I’m going to do my best to do that with Jesus and the cross…
Three short verses.
John 19:28-30: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they soaked a sponge and put it on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Three small words.
“It is finished.” They are Jesus’ last words. His final message; His last impression. What does Jesus want to make sure we never forget? “It is finished.”
Three small words. Except they aren’t 3 words at all. In the original Greek there is but a single word: Tetelestai. It means “complete” or “finished.” Jesus, having lived a sinless and sacrificial life, having said, “I lay down my life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45), having surrendered to a cross as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), uttered his last word: “Tetelestai.” “It is finished.” It might be the single most important word in all of Scripture: Tetelestai. “It is finished.” “Complete.” It was the word printed on a bill when payment had been received. We write, “Paid in full.” They wrote, “Tetelestai.” The word occurs in the New Testament in this form in this one place, surely John’s original readers would have noticed the implication: The bill for all human brokenness and rebellion has “paid in full” stamped across it.
Paul spends Romans 5 discussing how Jesus’ death defeated the effects of Adam’s sin, completely. Paul spends Romans 8 discussing one result that payment rendered, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Grammar of Faith
No one likes grammar, but here grammar is our friend. “Tetelestai” is in the perfect tense, used to indicate a completed action with ongoing effects extending into the future. Jesus could have used the tense of simple action, etelesthay, “The work is done.” But this action was anything but simple. Because Jesus fully and perfectly completed his task, the ongoing effects are that you and I are offered union with God forever. And, as bearers of that union, you and I carry the potential to live lives brimming over with meaning and purpose – we bear the Good News of the completion Jesus purchased for a lost and sin-sick world. It is finished; Tetelestai. The gospel in a single word; Tetelestai. Sin need never stand between humanity and God again; Tetelestai.
How do we experience life “paid in full”?
That receipt is given by grace. Received through faith. Cemented by baptism. And fed by word and sacrament. It was bought by God himself for “all who receive him,” (Jn 1:12) Tetelestai is an astounding mystery. “Paid.” Complete. Finished. Brought to perfection. Forever.
This Sunday of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the king of glory wills to enter the gates of your life. Receive your king. He has bought us, paid our debt, and sends us into the world on holy mission, destined to never have an ordinary moment again. Tetelestai.
Neither Ron Burgundy, nor you or I is that big a deal. Jesus Christ is a big deal. The big deal. He has bought us, paid our debt, and sends us into the world on holy mission, destined to never have an ordinary moment again. Tetelestai.
Image credit: Graham Sutherland “Study for Crucifixion,” 1947. Downloaded from smp.org