An early look at my reflection for Good Friday Vigil at St Peter’s Lutton Place – Words from the Cross: It is finished.
It is Finished – John 19:30
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Amen, and thanks be to God for his word.
The more I read of the Gospel of John (and we are reflecting on in just now in Priestfield) the more impressed I am with the carefulness of the author’s language. From the profound theology about the Logos of God in the Prologue, to the details of narrative, words are there because they were chosen to be there in order to fulfill a particular communicative purpose.
Having said that, we all read texts from particular perspectives so that sometimes we hear one word more loudly than another. That’s how this text has been for me this year. I came to it having heightened my awareness of a plant – a herb that I now have growing in my garden: hyssop.
In Psalm 51, David says, ‘Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.’ I read this and then asked myself a question I had never, ever asked myself before: why hyssop? What is so special about hyssop, and why should it be used in this kind of confessional context? I did a bit of online investigation to discover that the herb has anti-viral and purgative properties – so you have to be careful about the strength of the infusions you make! It seemed to me that David may be looking to be clean both inside and out.
But there was something else. A glance of its use elsewhere in Scripture is instructive. When the Israelites were about to experience the deliverance of the Exodus, it was with hyssop that the blood of the Passover Lamb was to be marked on the doorpost and lintel of their homes. And in the wilderness, when the sacrificial system was being set up, it was with hyssop that sacrificial blood and water was sprinkled upon people and things in need of cleansing. It is a plant whose name resonates with symbolic meaning because of its use.
And so, when the author of the Fourth Gospel tells us about Jesus being thirsty and being offered wine on a sponge, he chooses his word carefully. It is not ‘a stick’ as all the other Gospel writers say, but ‘a stick of hyssop.’ I believe that the implication he wants us to draw from this is that here upon this Roman cross, the One who is the Word made flesh is becoming our Passover Lamb; is being made our sacrifice for sin; is being made the instrument of our cleansing. Then Jesus says, ‘It is finished.’ The sacrifice is complete, the new Exodus has begun, and we have been washed clean.
In the silence now, reflect on how John wants us to understand what Jesus finished.