Good Friday 2009
[the final of seven meditations on the Seven last words of Jesus on the Cross]
And so we come to the end.
Jesus died as he lived.
The phrase, 'Into your hands I commit my Spirit' is a phrase that comes in Psalm 31. It was a Psalm that Jesus would have known well and would have prayed many times. The words would have sunk right into him, and become a part of his language and of his thinking – and so now, right at the end of his life, words that he has prayed so many times come through the pain into his mind.
Just as an aside, there really is a value in soaking ourselves in Scripture - in speaking verses and re-speaking them; in learning verses and re-learning them. In one convent where they recited the entire Psalter every week, someone asked one of the nuns, 'But isn't that boring'. She replied, 'Of course it is boring. But that is not the point'. The point is in letting the Word of God go deep within us, to live deep within us – so that we live it in our life, and at our death.
But Jesus adds something to the phrase from Psalm 31. He adds the word, 'Father'
Jesus calls God Father
He knew God as Father. He was aware of that from at least the age of 12 when Mary says to him, 'Your Father and I have been searching for you'. He replies, 'Did you not realize that I would be in my Father's house'. And Jesus is conscious of the presence of his Father, of the purpose of his Father, of the love of his Father. He says on one occasion: "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him," (Luke 10:22). Jesus prays to his Father in heaven, and when he comes to the garden of Gethsemane, even there he prays 'Father'.
And so now, right at the end of his life, he once again calls out to God as Father.
It is said that dying can be very lonely. Many people wish to have their family around them, but that is not always possible or desirable. Jesus was surrounded by people who were laughing at him or crowing over him. But now, right at the end, he is not on his own. He calls out to his Father.
Jesus entrusts himself to God
Some of you will have seen one of the programmes about the plane that crash landed on the Hudson River. The passengers who were interviewed talked about what it was like thinking that they were certainly going to die. Some said that that experience has changed their life. And it is a good spiritual discipline to face the reality of our own death, our own moment of death and what comes after.
Jesus at that moment entrusts himself into God's hands. It is what he has done all his life. This was a prayer that Jesus prayed now, but it was a prayer that he had lived. He lived in total dependence on God (even when it meant he had to go to the cross and to be crucified) and he died in total dependence on God.
This is not the end: this is a cry of hope
The pain is almost over. The task is finished. The job has been done. Jesus mission is accomplished.
Because of Jesus death, sinful human beings can be reconciled to God. There is the possibility of forgiveness, fellowship and a future in paradise. In Luke, we are told that the curtain in the temple was torn in two before Jesus dies.
So this is not the end. And it is not the end for Jesus. There is no reason to entrust ourselves into God's hands if there is nothing more.
There is a future: The Psalmist says (Psalm 31:14-15): "But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God'. My future is in your hands; deliver me from my enemies" (New Revised Standard Version).
And so we conclude:
Because of the events we remember today we can
- Call God 'Father'. That is an immense privilege. The force that is behind the creation is not something that is blind. It is not someone who needs to be appeased, or who is completely arbitrary. It is not fate. It is someone who loves us, who has given himself totally for us and who invites us to respond to that love. And he is there for us whenever we choose to turn to him, in life and in death.
- Entrust our lives to God. Obey his commands; receive his promises; trust him – even when it seems the last thing that humanly we wish to do.
Jesus invites us to trust ourselves into God's hands – not just at the moment of death, but each day. He teaches that we need to die to ourselves each day. Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me". And in Luke 11:3, Jesus teaches his disciples to have that daily dependence on God. He teaches us to pray, "Give us each day our daily bread".
I suspect that one of the reasons that our lives can feel so shallow is because we do not trust ourselves daily into God's hands. We try to play safe; to plan for all contingencies. And yes, following Jesus may well lead us to the cross, but the more we do trust ourselves to him, the more we live. In Hebrews 12:2, we are told that Jesus went through with the cross 'for the joy set before him'.
That is why people are prepared to live for him and to die for him:
I often quote the story of Polycarp who was on trial for his life. All he had to do to save himself was to swear by the emperor. "But the proconsul was insistent and said: "Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ." Polycarp said: "Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"" (The letter of the Church in Smyrna to the church in Philomelium)
Know there is a future – whatever the situation – even when it seems that everything has come to an end. Remember the thief on the cross. It was pretty hopeless for him, and yet he called out to Jesus.
So here, we come to the end. It is the end of our meditation, and it seems to be the end for Jesus. But it was not the end. And for the person who says 'Yes' to Jesus, who calls on God as Father, and who entrusts themselves into God's hands - whatever the situation, even when we are literally struggling for our last breath - it is not the end.
It is, in fact, the beginning. It may be Good Friday today, but Easter Sunday is just round the corner.