By Jayne Davis
“When Jesus had received the drink, he said, ‘It is finished.’” — John 19:30
“It is finished.” Such powerful words. Jesus’ last words in his earthly life, the culmination of all that the Father had asked of him, all that he willingly, obediently completed, found voice in that moment. And he took his last breath.
Over the years, particularly during these times of Holy Week, I have prayed over that phrase, “It is finished,” to know the fullness of it, the deep peace of it, at the heart of my ever-striving and often distracted soul. To do what God has put before me, to know what it is he is asking of me, to be able to say with gentle conviction at the end of a day, at the end of a life, “It is finished.” This is my prayer. And then to rest, for the night or for eternity, knowing that it is enough, because Jesus has already finished what I could never do for myself.
“It is finished.”
God underscored these words for me one Holy Week a few years ago. I spent much of it in the intensive care unit with my friend Lamar, a retired pastor, and his beautiful family. We didn’t know that these would be his last days. In that sacred space, many stories were told, hymns were sung and laughter was shared. Even when his body rested, his lips still uttered words of Scripture, “The old has passed away…,” and words of prayer, “Help me help them.” On Maundy Thursday, Lamar passed away.
Lamar frequently wrote Sunday school lessons for the curriculum materials that we produced as a congregation. Two months before he died, he emailed his last lesson to me to be published in our Lenten series. The text was John 19:30, “It is finished.” That lesson appeared the week that he died.
“Many years ago I saw a fountain,” Lamar wrote. “I cannot even remember where it was, perhaps a college campus or a city park. The picture comes back to me as sharply as if I saw it yesterday. In the center of the fountain was the statue of a young man with his hand pointing gracefully toward the sky, and from the tip of his index finger there gushed a steady stream of water, which was blown by the wind, and then of course, fell back into the pool beneath his feet. I do not know why, but there came to my mind at once the idea of life’s opportunities, and how they slip through our fingers as easily and as steadily as the water from his unmoving hand. …
“The question for Christians today is not: ‘What will be my last words, and will they be remembered?’ When that moment comes, the real question will be: Can I really say, ‘It is finished?’ ‘Have I made the most of my opportunities to do the work of God on earth?’
“At the closing of each day, a thoughtful contemplation of the previous hours and their opportunities may help each of us to do a better job with the coming day. Maybe it would even be productive to do this with pen and paper in hand, and especially with a heart open to God’s leadership.”
Lamar describes what many know as the spiritual practice of daily examen, a discipline of looking back over our day in prayer and paying attention to the movement of God in our lives. It is seeing the events of your day through God’s eyes. In Creating a Life with God, Daniel Wolpert calls it a time “to see where God was guiding us, directing us, and where, perhaps, we were walking away.”
What were the opportunities that you took that day and those you didn’t? Where, looking back, do you sense God’s presence? A holy nudging? Maybe you leaned it to it, the conversation or the task at hand, or maybe it slipped through your fingers like the water in the statue. Maybe your own patterns or habits got in the way.
The daily examen is not a time to beat ourselves up for things done or left undone. It is a way to pay attention to how God is at work in us and around us. It is a way of noticing how God moves and speaks so we can recognize him more quickly next time. It is an opportunity to realize in real time, each day, not in hindsight years down the road, the work God has given us to do and to grab hold of it. It is a listening to your life, noticing the patterns that keep causing you to stumble, and giving God room to steady you through them.
The spiritual practice of daily examen is not about mastering your will; it is about discovering God’s presence and living in its fullness, that at the end of the day, at the end of a life, you may rest well and say, “It is finished.”
“Is this a moment of commitment?” Lamar asks of all of us. “Will you make an appointment with God, that you will not end this day without listening for his voice? Is he not, after all, the source from which this day has come? For whom has it been lived — really? And what about tomorrow?”