A Gpod Friday sermon given on April 22nd, 2011 based upon John’s Gospel.
The four Gospels tell the old, old story from our distinct points of view, and none more distinctive from the others than that of John, which we’ve been listening to today. John includes a lot of stuff that the other Gospels don’t include, and leaves out a lot of stuff they do include.
John doesn’t focus the way the other Gospel writers do on Jesus’ suffering. John has no Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays in agony. In John’s Gospel, Jesus has come to accomplish a very specific task. “Get ‘er done,” as they say in the Midwest.
What Jesus is getting done is alluded to in the first chapter when John the
Baptist points to Jesus and declares him to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Whereas the other Gospels present the last supper as taking place on Passover, has Jesus die on the cross on the day of Passover.
You may remember the story of Passover. The Hebrews were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” The deliverance wasn’t accomplished until the night in which God sends the angel of death to the land. The Hebrew households are each instructed to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, and to pour the blood of this lamb on their door frames. In seeing the blood, the angel of death will pass over the Jewish homes and afflict only the Egyptians homes. In response to this final plague, Pharaoh decides to let God’s people go.
So, according to John, Jesus is the Passover lamb sacrificed on behalf of the people.
In those days, an elaborate system was in place through which people would seek to atone for their sins. It required traveling all the way to Jerusalem where the Temple was, purchasing unblemished animals that would be handed over to the high priests who alone were permitted to enter into the holy of holies where God’s presence was understood to dwell. There the high priests would sacrifice the animals to atone for the peoples’ sins.
It was an oppressive system that assumed a great eternal chasm between God and human beings. And so Jesus has come to be the final sacrifice the mother of all sacrifices – the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
From here on end, as Jesus had said earlier to the woman at the well, “you will worship the Father neither on a particular mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Instead, Jesus says, “the hour is coming… when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
And now the hour has come.
So in John’s theology, Jesus has come to do a job, and that is why he declares with his dying breath: “It is finished.”
It’s done. Accomplished. Something has shifted — objectively, in the universe, which if we really get a hold of it in our hearts and minds, changes everything.
Well, what has changed?
Apart from the fact we no longer sacrifice animals in the temple in Jerusalem, it can often seem like little has changed. More often than not, we still live as though there were a great chasm between God and ourselves.
But something truly has changed.
What would it mean if we were to take seriously that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit, that the chasm really had been removed.
There is a suggestion of what that might look like in the story we heard. Nicodemus reappears — Nicodemus who early in John’s Gospel had come to see Jesus – under the cover of night – so as not to be seen, anxious of what others would think, afraid that by following this deep yearning of his heart he might lose his status in the community.
Here at the end, however, Nicodemus comes out of the shadows. He brings a hundred pounds of spices to place in the linen in which Jesus’ body will be buried. This is the sort of extravagant act lovers do. Nicodemus isn’t afraid to say, “I love this man, and I am no longer afraid for the world to know.”
What would it mean for you to take seriously that you are loved by Jesus, and to feel free to love him back? What would it mean for you to come out of the shadows in your life, afraid, that if people really saw you as you truly are on the inside, that you would somehow lose the love you need to get by on.
Jesus has taken away the sin of the world. You cannot lose the love God has for you.
What would it mean to take seriously that because of what Jesus accomplished, there is absolutely no reason left in this world to try and prove yourself? Or to pretend to be something other than what you truly are?
This is what the Christian journey is about: to make subjectively true what is already objectively true.
It’s a journey we’re all called on.
I’m on it. This is the 30th holy week I’ve passed through as the pastor of a church. Why, I wonder to myself, do I still – after all these years – get stressed out every time holy week rolls around?
There is a part of myself that still clings to the notion that I must win God’s love – that I must prove myself worthy. That it is up to me to make this holy drama happen once more for people — that I must somehow open the door of heaven myself.
What foolishness! What nonsense!
I step back and look at myself, and I realize that what is motivating me is anxiety and fear rather than by love. All God wants from me is love, but I choose instead to live in fear and anxiety, and guilt.
I stop myself, and remind myself, it is finished. I don’t have to live that way anymore. It’s time to start living in line with the truth. Live in God’s peace. Live in love.
I don’t really have to live that way anymore. I can live in God peace. I can live in love.
What would it mean for you to take seriously that “It is, indeed finished!”
To live knowing that that which you most need, has already been given to you?
What pretences might you give up? What guilt and fear that you cling to because you haven’t dared to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way? What anger are you holding onto, killing your spirit, which you could, right now, just let go, because Jesus has declared, “It is finished?”