THE two words that remain for our consideration are recorded, the one by St. John, and the other by St. Luke, as having been spoken in the very moment when, bowing His sacred Head, our Lord gave up the Ghost. They must have been uttered in the same breath. Notwithstanding the fact that they were spoken in this moment of our Saviour's deepest humiliation, they are words of triumph and of joy.
Our Lord ever associated joy with the Cross. He went forward to embrace His Cross with the confidence and courage of a Conqueror. When He foretells His coming Passion, and holding up the Cross before the startled vision of his disciples announces in detail the circumstances of the Crucifixion, He does not fail to couple with this announcement, the promise of the glory which should follow: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the Prophets concerning the Son of Man shall he accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again" (St. Luke xviii. 31-34). "All things that are written concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished," It is the same word as that used here when He says "It is finished." And because all is now accomplished, He rejoices as in a work done, a victory achieved. He had spoken before of a Baptism that He should be baptized with, and had looked forward day by day with patient yearning for its fulfilment. "How am I straitened, until it be accomplished!" (St. Luke xii. 50). All through His suffering the glorious issue of His Passion was before Him, and the anticipation of the victory in which it should end sustained Him. Even before He left the upper room where He had kept the Passover with His disciples, and while Gethsemane and the Praetorium and Calvary were still awaiting Him, He had spoken of His victory as if it were already an accomplished fact. They are His last words of instruction to His disciples before going forth to die: "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (St. John xvi. 33). We shall not rightly learn the lesson of the Cross unless we learn also" the confidence of its certain triumph, and hasten to accept it with Him "Who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame."
It is not then simply as having reached the end of His suffering, and as having drained to the dregs the cup of His Passion, that our Lord cries, "It is finished." The meaning of this cry is not exhausted when we refer it to the fulfilment of all that Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms spake concerning Him, or that was predicted by the ceremonial types and shadows of the older law. Even the blessed truth that in filling up His sufferings He had paid the full price of our Redemption, making perfect and complete His satisfaction for the sins of the world, leaves the true import of the cry "It is finished" still unexplained. As we have seen, the word used here is elsewhere translated by "accomplish" or "fulfil." Perhaps the Latin version, "Consummatum est," is a still better equivalent. For it is precisely the consummation of the Divine purpose which is now realized in the moment of death, as distinct from the filling up of the measure, whether of suffering or of work which that purpose involved, that constitutes the deep underlying joy of this Word.
Here the Twenty-second Psalm comes again to our aid, that Psalm to which we have recurred so often in these meditations, and which has been well called the Programme of the Crucifixion. Not only does this Psalm, so sad in its beginning, culminate in a strain of joy, but its last ten verses may be said to afford a commentary upon the Word we are considering.
And what is to be especially noted is, that He who speaks throughout the Psalm, and who in its beginning cries out in the mysterious loneliness of His sorrows, is now no longer Alone. The Solitary Sufferer of the earlier verses is now encompassed by His brethren; standing up in the midst of the redeemed, He is the Leader in the praise of the great congregation. All the ends of the world, all kindreds and nations worship with Him. He is the Head of a great Family, the Father of a mighty posterity. "My seed shall serve Him, they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation. They shall come and the Heaven shall declare His righteousness, unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made" (Psalm xxii. 3.1, 32).
"Consummatum est." The joy of our Lord in this cry is the accomplishment at last, and at so great a cost, of that which makes it possible to incorporate men into a mystical union with His own Flesh. The sanctified Manhood in which He dies in expiation for sin, is, because of this expiation, to diffuse itself as a life-giving seed through the mass of humanity. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (St. John xii. 24). It is the exulting of our Lord's natural Body in the increase that shall be His in His Mystical Body. It is the Temple which enshrined the Godhead, rejoicing in its expansion to embrace all of mankind who come to Him for sanctuary. As He cries, "It is finished" our Lord is thinking of the millions upon millions of the Baptized who shall be united to Him by the new Birth, and made bone of His bone, and flesh of His Flesh. "When Thou shalt make His Soul an Offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His Hand" (Isaiah liii. 10). The truth which lies at the foundation of this joy, is the converse of that considered under the Fourth Word. There we saw Christ identifying Himself with us, making Himself the Penitent for the sins of the world. Here the meaning is, that through the work consummated on the Cross, we are identified with Him. It is simply a matter of fact that the New Testament makes all our participation in the Merits of Christ to depend upon union with Him through His Mystical Body. So truly are we by Baptism identified with His Body, that St. Paul says of the baptized, "Ye are the Temple of the living God" (II. Cor. xvi. 6). Our inability to explain the mystery must not deter us from confessing the truth that the Church and the Body of Christ are identical, "Jesus Christ being the chief Corner Stone in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy Temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Ephesians ii. 20-22). As members thus of the Body of Christ we died with Him, we were buried with Him, we rose in Him, in heavenly places even now we sit with Him. O that on this day at least, in which the great work was consummated, many might be brought to lay hold upon a truth, which, though it is presented in the New Testament so constantly, and with such a wealth and variety of illustration that it seems to burn in the fervor and insistence of its enunciation, is by thousands overlooked with an open Bible in their hands!
It is Christ Himself who speaks of His Body under the figure of the Temple. His Jewish hearers, though they did not perceive His hidden reference, would have the clearest notion as to the meaning of the term itself. For what to them was the Temple? It was the place where the Almighty had recorded His Name, the dwelling which He was pleased to make His habitation, the House in which His people should be gathered together, where His Presence and His Power were manifested, and where alone acceptable sacrifice and worship could be offered.
What the Temple foreshadowed under the figurative and preparatory system of the older law, was to be realized in the fulness and perfection of the substance in the Body of Christ.
This Temple He entered when He took our flesh of the substance of the Virgin Mary His Mother, and in it for evermore it pleases Him to dwell. In this Temple the Almighty recorded His Name, when the Name of Jesus was received, a pledge of the work now finished in which He saves us from our sins. But it is more especially of our part in this Temple, as it is the House of God for all nations that our Lord speaks in this cry "It is finished." It is by the work here accomplished that His Mystical Body shall gather into itself of all people. In this Temple of His Body, His Holy Catholic Church, His all-atoning Sacrifice is to live on, and He Himself in that same Body which hung upon the Cross is to be ever present, our one means of access to the Father, and of true and acceptable worship, as by His Eucharistic Presence He shall make good the word of the Psalm, "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" (Psalm xxii. 22). And yet once more, and above all, in this Temple He Himself is to be made our Food, that so by eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood we may more and more be made partakers of His sacred and life-giving Humanity.
Well may we see in this Word the fulfilment of a prophecy spoken a thousand years before: "Wisdom hath builded her House, she hath hewn out her seven pillars, she hath killed her beasts, she hath mingled her wine, she hath furnished her table" (Proverbs ix. 1, 2).
"Consummatum est." "A certain man made a great supper and bade many, and sent His servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready" (St. Luke xiv. 16, 17). Surely none can meditate as we do to-day upon the Sacrifice of the Death of Christ, and not long to lay hold upon His work of Atonement, and that by some means so definite and tangible that there can be no doubt of his identification with the sacrifice, and intimate personal union with his Lord. Who that knows the meaning of the work now accomplished but must long to receive worthily the Sacrament of His love. "O sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion renewed, the mind filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory given unto us!" Here we have been engaged in thinking about the Passion. As well as we could we have brought the scene before us and have meditated upon its blessed fruits. But in the Holy Eucharist we are in the actual Presence of Him who through so great suffering consummated His work. And the crowning blessing won for us by His Passion is this, that He has made possible for us a personal union with Himself so real, so intimate, that not His Blessed Mother or St. John, as they stood by His Cross, came so near Him as we can come when by communion we receive Him into ourselves. O then, as we have dwelt already upon the measure of His love for us, let us see in this triumphant Word which announces the completion of His work, His longing to draw all men unto Himself. Long has He hung with wide extended arms that He may embrace all who come to Him. His work is now done. "All is now ready."
O may we accomplish our part by cooperating with Him in what He has so graciously and so lovingly prepared for us, and may we so gratify the yearning of His sacred Heart, that He may see of the travail of His Soul and be satisfied with it.