1. What had been accomplished? In the first place, that work which Christ had come into the world to do. All that work may be resumed in a single word, "sacrifice." The Son of God had come for this one purpose, to offer a sacrifice. Here is room for serious misunderstanding. The blood, the pain, the death, were not the sacrifice. Nothing visible was the sacrifice, least of all the physical surroundings of its culminating act. There is only one thing which can rightly be called sacrifice -- or, to put it otherwise, one sacrifice which alone has any worth, alone can win any acceptance in the sight of God -- and that is, the obedience of the human will, the will of man brought into perfect union with that Divine Will which is its own highest moral ideal.
The perfect obedience of the human will of Christ to the Divine Will, could only be realised -- such were the circumstances under which the mission received of the Father was to be fulfilled by Him for the good of man -- by His faithfulness unto death. "He became obedient unto death," because in such a world perfect faithfulness must lead to death. But the death of Christ was no isolated fact, standing out solitary and alone from the rest of His ministry. It was not merely of one piece with, but the natural and fitting close of the whole. The death of uttermost obedience was the crown and consummation of the obedient life. On the Cross, He was carrying His life's work to its triumphant close. His Death was, itself, His victory.
This victorious aspect of the Passion is that on which St. John chiefly dwells. The "glorification" of the Son of man, His "lifting up," was the whole series of events extending from the Passion to the Ascension. So the first Christians loved to think of the Cross, not as the instrument of unutterable pain, but as the symbol of their Master's triumph. It is this feeling, this apprehension of the Johannine teaching on the Passion, which accounts for the late appearance of the crucifix. Even when, at last, the actual sufferings of the Saviour are depicted, we are still far removed from medieval realism. There are no nails -- the Saviour is outstretched on the Cross by the moral power of His own will, steadfast and victorious in its obedience. The Sacred Face is not convulsed with agony, but is turned, with calm and benignant aspect, towards men whom He blesses. The earliest representations of the Passion, as we have noticed before, are far nearer to the spirit of the gospels, that of St. John above all, than those of the Middle Ages.
2. But the ministry itself was but the consummation of the age-long work now "accomplished." Throughout the whole course of man's history, in the entire spiritual evolution, whose first steps and rude beginnings we trace in the burial mounds of prehistoric races, He Whose lips now uttered that great "It is accomplished" had been the light of men, never amid thick clouds of error and cruelty and superstition wholly extinguished. In every approach of man to God however dimly conceived of, the Word, the Eternal Son, had been offering Himself in sacrifice to the Father.
So here, in the perfect act of the moral obedience of a human will, is that to which all sacrifices not only pointed forward but, all the time, meant, and aimed at, and symbolised, as men so slowly and so painfully groped after, felt their way to God, "if haply they might find Him."
"It is accomplished" -- the true meaning of sacrifice, of all religion, heathen and Jewish, is attained and laid bare.
Thousands of years of human development reach their climax, find their issue and their explanation in these words.
3. In its teaching, this sixth word ascends to the heights, to the mysterious and ineffable relationships of the Godhead -- which are the inner reality and meaning of all morality and religion -- and it descends to the depths, to the lowliest details of the most commonplace life.
All work, for the Christian, is raised to the level, to the dignity of sacrifice. Once and for all we must rid ourselves of that idea which has wrought so much mischief, that sacrifice necessarily connotes pain, loss, death. Essentially our sacrifice is what essentially Christ's sacrifice was, the joyous dedication of the will to God, the Source and Light of all our being.
The daily round, the common task,
All work is sacred, or may be so, if we will. For all work has been consecrated for evermore by the perfect obedience, that is, the perfect sacrifice of the Son of man, the Head of our race. There is no task which any Christian, anywhere, can be called upon to do, which cannot be made part of that joyous service, that glad sacrifice, which, in union with that of Jesus Christ our Lord, we, one with Him in sacramental union, "offer and present" to the Father.