“It is Finished”: Our Sacrifice is Complete

Good Friday 2020 – Revd. Nathaniel Deng Mayen

This particular Good Friday! Oh my God! For most of the people I have talked to and who have attended the church for most of their adult lives, this Easter season is special in many ways.

First, we will remember the death of Jesus Christ in our own homes and houses, instead of gathering in the ‘parish church.’ The ‘home churches’ are growing because where and when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, God is with us, and the church is established.

Second, the ongoing special circumstances have not only reminded us about the fragility, or a delicate nature, of our human lives, but also taught us how to show love for each other, even when we have some distance apart from each other. The credible work done by the pastoral team in our parish and the health care workers in our nation is a great testimony for such love. 

Thanks to all individuals and groups that are working tirelessly and showing love for one another in different ways during this trying time. Hope for brighter days ahead is key. 

God is in control, is with us and will always be. Dr. Annette Brownlee has written a great piece in the Wycliffe College newsletter, The Morning Star, about the presence of God in time of pestilence and its consequences. Brownlee states, “God describes the purpose of the ten plagues clearly: they are not punishment. They are an invitation to know God: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them” (Exodus 9:15-16). A catastrophe is no time for the Church to begin straining its unused vocal cords in the public square. The Church’s response then, must be through the witness of our actions. Actions born of our recognition of our participation in God’s care of the world through our participation in Christ’s ministry.”[1]

An invitation to know God come in different ways, but the best way to know God is to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, both non-believers and believers. 

Good Friday is the most significant event that reveals the climax o this knowledge: Christ’s death on the cross is a special event in which God reconciles humanity with himself. 

“He bore the sin of many,” Isaiah declares. 

Hebrews confirms, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” 

John concludes, “It is finished.” 

The readings today confirm to us that through Jesus Christ crucified, our sins are taken away and our new life have been won by the particular living and dying of this particular person. Jesus Christ is never to be understood as a symbol for something other than himself as the Son.[2]

Again, the setting of our story about Jesus Christ is Israel. We believe in the God of Israel. The word “God” therefore represents the specific God of Israel, the LORD God of Abraham, God of Exodus, God of the Law, and God who has come to us through Jesus Christ. 

Now you realize a character named Jesus of Nazareth has entered on this scene, claiming to be “sent” by the God of Israel and to speak in his name. Jesus then comes on stage announcing that the Reign of the God of Israel, foretold by the prophets, is very near at hand; he calls Israel to greet this Reign, to welcome its coming in joy and penitence (repentance). 

The Gospels place Jesus Christ squarely in the context of the plans and promises of the God of Israel. We must take this particular person seriously, especially what he has come for.

John’s Gospel closes the passion chapter with the finality of the promises and the final sacrifice for us, “It is Finished”. Every law has been fulfilled. God has vindicated Jesus Christ for our salvation. God has judged the world through the self-emptying love of his own Son.

Why does Jesus Christ matter to us? Because Christ is our sacrifice. He is the one who has died for us and taken away our sin. We pray, therefore, to him: “for he is the very Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life” (BCP 80).

In the ancient Israel tradition, the critical act of reconciling humanity with God was the ritual of sacrifice, and for Christian believers, atonement happens because of the death of Jesus. 

Sacrifice is the first image by which the Christian community interprets its experience of salvation. Christ’s death is understood to be ‘the final sacrifice’, as Hebrews teaches us today. 

From this perspective the death of Christ may be symbolized as a sin-offering as much as a gift-offering; those who trust in Christ make their self-offering in response to the self-giving of Christ, which is a sacrifice in every sense. The death of Christ has the power to enable the response of worship and trust in God in those who see it. It is the means of creating fresh life. 

As a sacrificial victim, Christ dies as a substitute in so far as other human beings do not need to die as he has died, in total alienation. He ‘does for us what we cannot do for ourselves’.

We must accept the sacrifice, the costly entering of another’s experience to wipe out blockages to relationship and lead to the new relations with God through the forgiveness of sin.

Once we understand that sacrifice is a communicative act from human beings in order to make amend of our own sin and offence against God, we can enter into the joy of resurrection knowing that forgiveness of our sin is a result of the death of Christ on the cross. The blood of Christ was shed for our sin so that we can continuously and obediently reflect on such a huge sacrifice and love for us, and then turn back to God rather than turning away from him. He is our final sacrifice and we need no more than drawing near to the throne of grace. Yen ka (that is it)!

I will a Dinka hymn for the covenant that comes with the sacrificial death and blood of Christ – “no other sacrifice like it, and no blood is like the blood of Jesus” (Yecu – pay attention to sound ‘yechu’). The four verses relate the following encounters with God: God’s covenant with Noah and sign of the rainbow; God’s covenant with Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac and blessing of Abraham as father of the nation; God’s covenant with the Israelites and the sign of Passover and baptism through the Red Sea; and God’s covenant with the entire world through the blood of Christ that is shed on the cross. 

[1] Annette Brownlee, “A Christian Response and Witness in the time of COVID-19,” The Morning Star. 2. Retrieved from https://www.wycliffecollege.ca/sites/default/files/publications.

[2] David Yeago, Apostolic Faith I, Chapter 8: Jesus Crucified and Risen, page 307.