My dear Friends

At this point in the Christian year, the Passion narrative is still fairly fresh in our minds, including Jesus’ words from the cross: “It is finished”. We rejoice in what is a victory cry – his unique atoning work, taking away the sins of the world, is accomplished. We rehearse this fact in the words of the consecration prayer at every 8.45 am communion service: “... who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…” You kind of get the feeling, don’t you, that the authors of that prayer didn’t want us to miss the point about completeness!

Perhaps slightly less familiar are Jesus’ other words about finishing, in John 17.4,5, part of his so-called high-priestly prayer:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

These words, uttered before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, presumably refer to his life’s work as a whole.

 

For most of us there comes a point when we realise that we are simply not going to get everything done. Sometimes it’s on the relatively trivial level of unfinished domestic tasks, or the slightly more serious case of a traffic jam which means we won’t make it to that meeting or be able to catch that plane. It might however be major: the painful acceptance of the fact that we will not achieve some deeply held ambition, or that we have failed to take a potentially life-changing opportunity that won’t come again. We are human, and loose ends are a feature of our fallen world.

Jesus’ words quoted above draw us into the perfect purposes of God. Obedient to the will of his Father, he had brought to completion the work he had come to do. There was one more day – one more supreme and unique task – and the “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” would be made. Glory surrounded all that he had done; glory surrounds him as he goes through death and reconciles all things in creation to their Creator; glory awaits him as he returns to the Father’s throne (we celebrate his Ascension on 30 May this year).

 

How do we, with our loose ends and unfinished tasks, fit into the perfect purposes of God? Perhaps the answer lies, in part, elsewhere in this high-priestly prayer. Jesus prays about having sent his disciples out into the world as his Father sent him (John 17.18). As he finishes his earthly work, he sends out us who claim to be his followers to fulfil his purposes, protected by his power and destined to share his glory. He will work with and through our weaknesses and forgive our failures.

I have never been a talented woodworker, but somehow at school I found myself making what was supposed to be a coffee table. It was an awful mess, but with the end of term approaching I clamped the whole thing together one evening, poured generous quantities of glue into every cavity, and left it to set overnight. The next morning I received a severe reprimand from the teacher in charge, who told me it was only fit for firewood, but seeing my upset and shame he then smiled and said, “However, we will attempt to resurrect it” (his exact words). In less than five minutes, with the right tools in his most skilful hands, we had a perfectly presentable TV footstool, which served my family well for many years.

 

When we are welcomed into the glory of God’s presence, we will discover exactly what we did achieve in fulfilling his purposes: work that was well done, relationships that were built up, words that changed lives, prayers that worked miracles. However much or little we had time to do, and however imperfectly we did it, we and our lives will be complete in him.

These thoughts were developed from an article by Margaret Killingray, of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Your sincere friend and Vicar

Charles Mason