Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It is finished

When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:30

It all started with a Sunday morning service at the local Evangelical church which my wife and I attended during our last year at seminary. The preacher had just finished an exciting sermon on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. But something he said stuck with me. In the middle of the message, he raised a simple question: "In John 19:30, what did Jesus mean when he cried, 'It is finished'? What does the 'it’ refer to?" Instantly the standard Evangelical answer came to my mind: Jesus’ words signify the completion of our redemption at that moment.

My mind began racing ahead in search of a solution. It only came after graduation, in my first year as a pastor while studying Scripture in preparing a series of sermons on what we Presbyterians called "the Lord’s Supper."

THE FIRST stage of my discovery process came in studying the Old Testament background to Jesus’ Last Supper. The occasion was the Jewish feast of Passover.

The Passover meal was divided into four parts. First, the preliminary course consisted of a festival blessing (kiddush) spoken over the first cup of wine, followed by the serving of a dish of herbs. The second course included a recital of the Passover narrative and the "Little Hallel" (Psalm 113), followed by the drinking of the second cup of wine. The third course was the main meal, consisting of lamb and unleavened bread, after which was drunk the third cup of wine, known as the "cup of blessing." The Passover climaxed with the singing of the "Great Hallel" (Psalms 114-118) and the drinking of the fourth cup of wine.

New Testament scholars see this pattern reflected in the Gospel narratives of the Last Supper. In particular, the cup blessed and distributed by Jesus is identified as the third cup in the Passover Haggadah. This is apparent from the singing of the "Great Hallel" which immediately follows: "And when they had sung a hymn. . . ." (Mark 14:26).

At this point a significant problem arises. Instead of proceeding immediately to the climax of the Passover, the drinking of the fourth cup, we read: "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Mark 14:26). While it may be difficult for Gentile Christians unfamiliar with the Haggadah to perceive the serious disorder this sequence represents, it is not lost to Jewish readers and students of the seder. For them, Jesus skipping the fourth cup could be compared to a priest omitting the words of consecration at Mass. The fundamental purpose or goal of the liturgy seemingly was missed.

Not only is the omission conspicuous, it appears to be underscored by the words of Jesus in the preceding verse: "Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). It is almost as though Jesus meant not to drink what he was expected to drink.

For one thing, I noticed that my King, Priest, and paschal victim, in his "hour of glory" while suffering on the cross, made a profound gesture: "After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), 'I thirst.'"

More things fall into place upon reading what followed his expression of thirst: "A bowl of sour wine stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth" (19:29). Only John noticed that hyssop was used, the branch prescribed in the Passover law for sprinkling the blood of the lamb (Ex.12:22).

This verse reveals something significant. Jesus had left unfinished the Passover liturgy in the upper room by not drinking the fourth cup. He stated his intention not to drink wine again until he came into the glory of his Kingdom. As we have seen, he refused some on one occasion, right before being nailed to the cross (Mark 15:23). Then, at the very end, Jesus was offered "sour wine" (John 19:30; Matt.27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36). But only John tells us how he responded: "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (19:30).

AT LAST I had an answer to my question. It was the Passover that was now finished.

Source: The Hunt for the Fourth Cup By Scott Hahn

No comments:

Post a Comment