A few weeks ago I was having a pizza in Times Square with a native New Yorker. When we finished he asked that the leftovers be boxed so we could “give them to a homeless guy.” Within a few minutes of leaving the restaurant we had encountered a homeless man who asked us for money, got pizza instead, and was genuinely appreciative of the warm meal.
That felt good. It not only eased my guilt about throwing away perfectly good food, it also solved the dilemma of what to do when a homeless person asks for money. Armed with this new strategy, I was in Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks later and was at a traffic light when a homeless person approached my car looking for money. As luck would have it, I was munching on a pretzel rod when the man came near.
“Want a pretzel?” I asked, feeling good about myself. His reply caught me off guard.
“I ain’t got no teeth!” the man yelled. And then he showed me. He opened his mouth and sure enough, he didn’t have any teeth. Well, he did have some extremely long bottom teeth, but it was all gum on top.
“I ain’t got no teeth!” he yelled again. “What you want to give me a pretzel for when I ain’t got no teeth?” Then he walked to the car behind me and broadcast my ineptitude: “He wants to give me a pretzel and I ain’t got no teeth!” Thankfully, the light changed and I could drive away.
Why in the world am I thinking about this misadventure on Good Friday? Because of something I like to call “the promise of the cross.” After Jesus uttered, “It is finished,” it’s logical to ask, “What exactly is finished and when is it finished?” Certainly we understand that God’s saving work was finished as Jesus drew His last breath. But there is a deeper sense that “It is finished” points forward to the culmination of all of God’s redemptive work. In Revelation 21 “It is finished” appears again, with the vision of a new heaven and a new earth and the promise of God “wiping every tear from our eyes” and “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”
This is the promise of the cross – the first fruits of which were revealed in the empty tomb three days later – the promise that God will make all things new. It’s the promise of a coming day when the things of this world are transformed, when there aren’t any more toothless people or homeless people. It’s the promise of a day when cancer is no more, when those who are lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s are their old selves again, a day without ecological disasters and senseless shootings and land mines and juvenile diabetes and even common colds and flu bugs, a day when broken relationships and assault weapons and war and Parkinson’s and whatever else you can think of that causes sorrow and sadness and pain in our broken and sin-filled world simply don’t exist anymore.
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” and today Christians confess that the beginning came with the first “It is finished” at Golgotha, and that there is another “It is finished” still to come that will be glorious in ways beyond our imagination.
I know those who do not share my hope must be thinking that this is a lot of misguided wishful thinking. I get that, but I also like these words of Frederick Buechner: “Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on. Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”
This is hard and difficult, but we labor on, knowing a day is coming when that man in D.C. will say, “Give me a pretzel, because I’ve got teeth.”