A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, “It is accomplished,” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
These final words of Jesus in John’s gospel do not tell us what actually happened at the end of the life of a man crucified by the Romans in Jewish Palestine some 2000 years ago. It tells us what his early followers began to understand about his life. This portrayal of the death of Jesus and his final words imply some things. They imply that he had a sense of purpose about his life. They imply that in this moment otherwise viewed as tragic, he understood it as fulfillment. They imply that his death, finally, was his choosing. He gave up his spirit. It was not taken from him.
Long before Anselm crafted the atonement theory of salvation in the 11th century, a set of ideas that has dominated western Christianity, Christians had another way of understanding the life of Jesus. They understood that he clearly and without hindrance reflected the image of the Divine that we all are. They understood that humanity suffers a kind of spiritual amnesia about that, and they understood that Jesus, in all of his actions and teachings became a living reminder of who we are. Salvation, then, was not about original sin being wiped away by pure blood. It was about helping us remember who we really are.
No less is this final scene of Jesus’ life as John crafts it a reminder of the life we each have: a life to live to its fullest, with purpose, with the sense that it is ours until we yield it up. A long standing practice of the monastic traditions in the west is called the “dying daily” practice. It is simple. When one lies down at night, one ponders that this is one’s lying down for the last time. What is the quality of my life as I have lived it today? Can I say, as I lie down tonight: it is accomplished, my life today is accomplished. Can we yield ourselves up to the Universe as we drift off to sleep. And, if we awake to a new day, we face our next opportunity to live a day of accomplishing our life’s work. We begin to remember who we are.