“It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.John 19:30
In the Christian world, today is Good Friday. It is the day when churches around the world remember the crucifixion of Jesus. But what makes Good Friday, good? I mean, no matter how you parse it, violent death and capital punishment seem rather bad.
There are not a whole lot of things I remember from Greek class. Part of that is because I started them almost twenty years ago this summer. It is also rare for me to pick up my Greek New Testament these days. But most of it is because I was never all that good at Greek. The same is true of Hebrew, German, and Spanish. Some would argue my English needs work as well.
But one of the things that remain implanted in my brain from the smoldering St. Louis summer of 2002 is the word tetelestai. It is the word of Jesus that we translate finished. But, as so often happens in English, we fail to capture the full nuance of the word.
Like Spanish, Greek is an inflected language. That means there are an array of prefixes and suffixes you can add to a word to give it expanded meaning. In this case, tetelestai uses the rare pluperfect form which means what Jesus did is not only finished but will remain in a perpetual state of finishedness.
This means that, at least according to John’s interpretation, the culmination of Jesus’ work is the crucifixion itself. But what exactly was Jesus’ work? What is now and will remain finished?
If we jump back to John’s prologue, we find our answer. John tells us that Jesus came “full of unfailing love and faithfulness.” He then goes on to write that those who witnessed Jesus, saw in him the glory of the God Jesus called Father. A few sentences later he declares, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”
In other words, throughout the entire Gospel of John, Jesus is out to show us what God is like, and the culminating act of that revelation is to willingly hand himself over to those who have a different narrative about who God is so they can kill him.
Jesus goes to the cross to make the ultimate statement that God does not live according to power. To declare that God is not about self-serving ambition. That God is not judgmental or cruel. To reject any conception of God that is something other than unending love and faithfulness.
And that is what is good about Good Friday. Not the event itself. It is not the violence or the suffering. Good Friday is not good because what happened on that hill outside Jerusalem was in any way good. Good Friday is good because it reveals that God is nothing less and nothing more than unending love and faithfulness.
May all other stories about God also be finished.
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