Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit" -- Luke 23:46

Even though we now celebrate the season of resurrection, I thought I would share my reflections from last week's Trumbull Interfaith Committee's Good Friday Service. I was assigned Jesus' final word from the cross: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

It is the very end, the end of the ordeal, the end of the suffering. Jesus dies alone on the cross, tortured, exhausted, abandoned by his friends, forsaken by God, gasping for a last breath and gathering strength for one final cry. (1) Jesus dies with the words of Psalm 31 on his lips. However, he only quotes half the verse. In a loud voice Jesus says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” but he doesn’t say the second half of the verse: “Redeem me O Lord, God of truth.” The writer of Psalm 31 prays for deliverance from enemies, saying, “You, Lord, are God of the covenant. I trust you. Come, keep your promises, and rescue me.” Does Jesus have this in mind as speaks his final words?

We like to disinfect death. Go to a funeral, and death is discreetly mentioned. You remember the dead person’s life with an optimistic celebration. You get lively music, humor, and a nice spread of food. No one wants to think about that moment of death. The Lord’s death also gets sanitized. We are told that his last words are the final recommitment of his submission to the Father’s will. To the very end, Jesus persistently obeys God. But, what if his last words are really a final cry for help? What if Jesus is scared? What if he doubts? What if he thinks, “Father, I’m a good Son. I have always committed myself into your hands. Come and rescue me.” What if Jesus draws his final breath as a prayer for deliverance from death. And it doesn’t happen.

Or does it?

On Good Friday, there is no deliverance from death -- it’s not God’s way of doing things. God doesn’t deliver Jesus from death. God delivers Jesus through death. Christians need to wrestle with this just as Jesus did. We are not often rescued from life’s pain. However, as we struggle through the dark times, we announce our trust in a God who calls his sons and daughters to new life on the other side of death. (2)

“Into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Jewish mothers taught their children to pray these words before bed. As darkness fell, children learned to lay themselves before God. And on Good Friday, as darkness descends and the Son of God dangles on a cross, Jesus prays those memorable words and then dies like a child falling asleep in his parent’s arms. (3) Maybe in that moment Jesus knows he can trust in life beyond the grave.

How about you, Christian? Life pitches pain and doubt, and grief, and loss, and horror at us. What do you do when darkness falls and you face your deepest fears? What happens when you pray for relief, and it feels like God ignores your wounds? Hear the words of Christ. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” His words are also our creed. They belong to the living as well as the dying. If we can’t learn to practice trusting God in the living of our lives, then we have not learned what it means to fully live. (4) It does take practice. Living a full life of trust and faith means seeing, and hearing, and feeling sure signs of God’s presence during life’s pain. Faith does not need to be the casualty of our woundedness. So, practice trusting in God. God promises to deliver his people through the darkness and into new life.

Sources:
(1) Good Friday Worship Service, The Seven Last Words, http://www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/a-gdfr-sn.php
(2) Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 263.
(3) William Barcaly, The Gospel of Luke (Edingurgh: St. Andrew, 1956), 301-302.
(4) William Mays (quoting John Calvin), Psalms (Louisville: Knox, 1989), 144.

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