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Jesus last words: 'It is finished'

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 Contents - Apr 2014AD2000 April 2014 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Ukraine: blessed are the peacemakers - Peter Westmore
Cardinal Pell appointed to senior Vatican post - Peter Westmore
News: The Church Around the World
Russia: the rebirth of religious belief - Peter Westmore
Ukraine: Bishop Peter Stasiuk: Ukrainian people want peace and justice - Bishop Peter Stasiuk
Marriage: Don't trust media reporting of Synod on marriage - Philip F. Lawler
Vocations: Australia's flourishing seminaries 2014 - Br Barry Coldrey
Communicating the Faith with C.S. Lewis - Fr. D. Longenecker
Depression: Charlotte Dawson: she died of a broken heart - Anne Lastman
Radicalism in Islam: the Christian response - Father Samir Khalil Samir SJ
Conversion and confession - Cedric Wright
Letters: Asylum seeker statement - Richard Congram
Letters: Appreciation for Anne Lastman - Errol Duke
Letters: Private Revelations - John Young
Passover: Jesus last words: 'It is finished' - Anne Lastman
Books: Pope Francis, Our Brother, Our Friend, by Alejandro Bermudez (Editor) - Br Barry Coldrey (reviewer)
Books: Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Francis, Pope of a New World, by Andrea Tornielli - Br Barry Coldrey (reviewer)
Books: WHEN HITLER TOOK AUSTRIA: Memoir by the Chancellor's Son, Kurt von Schuschnigg - Br Barry Coldrey (reviewer)
Events: Holy Week 2014 - Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (1962 Missal)
Books: Order books from
Reflection: Lent: our preparation for Easter - Bishop Anthony Fisher OP

I have always understood the last words of Jesus, "It is finished", on many levels. One of these is that the work of salvation has now been accomplished. It now remains that each human being believes, understands, applies and accepts this work of salvation. In their freedom it must be accepted just as with complete freedom the Son accomplished His mission of salvation.

At another level I see that it can also refer to the completion of the Passover sacrifices. Jesus' sacrifice brings to an end, once and for all, the need for any type of blood sacrifice.

And further, I have also understood tetelestai, the Greek for "It is finished", to refer to the closing of Our Lord's own Passover ritual which had been interrupted when he and his apostles went to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed.

The songs of the Hallel (Ps 113-118) had been sung (Cup of Blessing), but the fourth cup (Cup of the Messiah) had yet to be drunk in order for the Seder (the Passover dinner) to be completed.

On the Cross and after drinking from the sponge soaked with vinegar (sour wine) and lifted to him on a hyssop stick, Jesus said "It is finished." This was the drinking from the Fourth Cup of the Seder, the Cup of the Messiah.

New covenant

This was to occur purposefully on the cross where the old covenant of the Passover was now to be transformed into the new covenant in his blood.

He is now "the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29). He is the "Lamb standing as though it had been slain" (Rev 5:5-6).

To complete the Passover, Jesus would have eaten of the lamb, sung the psalms, drunk from the four cups, eaten a piece of the middle matzah (unleavened bread), and so completed the year's Seder.

However, throughout time the Hebrew people developed a ritual at the end of celebration of their Passover, that is the ritual of the hidden a fikoman which is a piece of unleavened bread, from the middle matzah, broken and brought out at the end of the Seder to be the last thing eaten.

The Jewish scholar, Israel Jakob Yuval, wrote, "In fact, if we trace the history of the afikoman, on the one hand, and that of the Host, on the other, we do in fact discover an ancient similarity between the two. In 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul addresses the disciples and commands them, 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.'

"Thus, eating the holy bread and drinking the holy wine in the Eucharist is inteded to help participants recall the cruxifixion of Jesus and the expectation of his Parousia, his Second Coming ...

"The eating of the afikoman thus signifies the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah" (Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity, University of California Press. 2006).

A similar conclusion was reached by Professor David Daube, the renowed Jewish scholar, who has argued persuasively that afikoman had messianic significance in Jewish passover ritual in Jesus' time, and that Jesus had taken the afikoman at the Last Supper and identified it with himself.

In his presentation, He That Cometh (1966), he argued that the word afikoman came from the Greek verb afikomenos which means "the Coming One" or "He who has come".

Professor Daube said that at the time, the Passover meal had a messianic element. And the afikoman matzah glowed with a special aura. He believed this was because it symbolised the expected Messiah. The afikoman energised the Seder with a deep sense of expectancy: the hope of an even greater, future Passover redemption.

Appropriately, this matzah was the last thing eaten at the meal. Daube believed that the unleavened bread that Jesus gave to his disciples at the last Passover meal was actually an afikoman.

When Jesus lifted the unleavened bread and said, "Take, eat, this is my body," he was in effect saying: "This broken and hidden matzah, which has for our people symbolised the Messiah, is fulfilled in me. I myself am the Afikoman (the Coming One) whom you expect."

This messianic symbolism and ritual were eventually lost to Jewish tradition, Professor Daube suggested, because it had been adopted by the early Christians.

In summary, Jesus on the night of the Passover meal, becomes not only the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) but also reveals himself as the fulfilment of the broken middle bread ( matzah). Indeed, I would suggest, reveals himself as the second person or middle person of the Holy Trinity.

Afikoman , seen mystically in Jewish tradition as representing or in place of "he who is to come" also as the "Cup of Redemption", and through these actions he recalls the promise, "I will redeem you" (Ex 6:6), bringing to mind the promised new covenant sealed with his blood, as all biblical covenants are.

The afikoman is little understood within Christianity, but it is important because it ( afikoman) no longer needs to be hidden since he makes himself known as Jesus, the promised one, who has come, and is ever present but hidden in the Eucharist.

It is interesting because the afikoman is eaten at the end of the Passover meal, and the Eucharist is eaten at the end of the Liturgy of the Word and Prayers of the Faithful.

Present, real, continuous

Perhaps the best word to describe both the Passover and the Eucharist (which are also the longest unbroken religious sacrifices) is the word anamnesis, a past event made present, real and continuous.

Jesus is the revealed Lamb, which must be eaten because if the Israelites in Egypt did not eat the lamb, then the next morning their first born would have been found dead. With Jesus saying, "Unless you eat of the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood there is no life in you" (Jn 6:53-54), he is saying the same: unless you eat of his flesh, and drink his blood (Cup of the Messiah) in the New Passover of the Lamb, you will also have no life in you.

An extant Greek document called Peri Pascha "On the Passover" written by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, (circa 2nd century) and described as nothing less than a Christian text of the order of the Passover, refers to Jesus as the "one who is coming ( afikoman) out of heaven to the earth"! He is descending in order to ascend. He is the middle piece, the afikoman (God the Son) broken for "our transgressions" (Is 53:5).

With the eating of the afikoman, we can, with Jesus, say " Tetelestai" ("It is finished").

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 3 (April 2014), p. 15

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