First Words

Death and the grace of “it is finished”

At a recent funeral, some churchgoers were surprised by my choice of texts.

When Nancy died at the age of 95, her death wasn’t of cancer, stroke, or a car crash. She died of a completed life. Decades of faithful and fruitful living, replete with Nancy’s spark of love spreading infectiously to others, had left her tired at the end. She finished her last breaths inhaling family love and exhaling peace.

It didn’t take long for me to settle on a reading for Nancy’s funeral. I chose a passage from the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel, right after Jesus, dangling from the cross, commends his beloved disciple and his mother to each other’s care:

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28–30)