A Final Word

Well...it is the 2nd Day of Easter.  I meant to write a final post yesterday--but I decided to let Easter speak for itself.

Thanks for reading along through this Lenten Season.  I have no idea of how many folks did...but a word of thanks to you who did.  It was a good discipline for me to reflect in a systematic way on what it means to live a vital spirituality under the conditions of this technological age.  So much more to be said, of course...but the sustained reflection was important for me, personally.

Yesterday, Pope Francis delivered his Easter Blessing (his Urbi et Orbi - to the city and to the world) from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.  He noted that it was one of those rare years when all Christians celebrated Easter on the same day and concluded his blessing with the following words...which I will let stand as my final word in the dawning days of this Easter Season...

With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: ‘The Lord is truly risen, as he said!’ May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.


7th Word: Into Your Hands...

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.   (Luke 23: 44-46)

Holy Saturday.  No services today.  It is the sabbath.  It was the sabbath then as well.  The women, we are told, had gathered all the spices necessary to provide for a proper, honorable burial.  At the last minute before the sun set and the sabbath began, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimethea (a member of the religious council that had condemned Jesus--a decision he had vehemently opposed) went to Pilate and requested that he be allowed to take down the broken body from the cross and lay Jesus in his own tomb.  All was completed as the sun set and the sabbath began.  

The silence in the aftermath of all that had transpired must have been deafening.  How could one "rest"?  But they did.  God commanded rest.  The spices were carefully prepared and placed at the door. At first light, they would make their way to Joseph's tomb to do what needed to be done.  A final act of love and devotion.   The degrading, horrific, dishonoring, brutal acts of the day before would not be the last word.  Love and devotion would redeem the remains of the day before.

We live in Holy Saturday.  We know death in this world.  In the shadow of death there is no shadow of doubt.  We know what it means to live in the deafening absence that follows in the wake of death.  We are called to do what needs to be done--acts of love and devotion knowing that when this day is done, love will carry the day.

And so we pray the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray on this side of the grave...they will one day be our last words:  "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit."  It is a prayer that Jesus had been taught to pray--found in Psalm 31.  The words that follow in the next phrase of the Psalm complete the prayer, even though not spoken: "you have redeemed me, O lord, faithful God."

In this Holy Saturday world, we labor in love and devotion in the shadow of death.  Such labor is born of a hope that a new day has dawned.  

Even the shadows are evidence of an unquenchable light.

6th Word: It is Finished...

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19: 29-30)

What does the "it" in this 6th word from the cross refer to?  His short life?  His suffering?  His ability to draw breath? I don't think so.  I think, and I am not alone in this, the "it" is all that he came to accomplish, his calling, his mission.  That being said, to say it is "finished" is not simply a statement that it is over and done with. It is to say that what he was born to do and to be had been completed, accomplished, fulfilled.  Not unlike the artist stepping back from her masterpiece that has been in the making for years and declaring, "It is finished."  

This, of course, is the great mystery of it all:  just what had he accomplished?  From the Disciples point of view, from the point of view of anyone standing by on that first Good Friday, Jesus was finished in the sense of utterly and ultimately defeated, overtaken, and dashed against the rock forces of injustice.  Done in.  Finished.

Things go dark at noon that Friday as if to confirm the ending.  A deadening silence follows and the the sabbath begins.  Holy Saturday.  The 7th day.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2: 2-3)

When the notion of "finish" is applied to God, things are anything but over and done with.  The earliest Christians talked about being people of the 8th day.

In this life, it feels like nothing is ever finished.  Way leads on to way.  Life gets cut short in so many ways for so many people.  Even when one dies in old age, we who are standing by feel a deep and profound sense that the life was not finished....whether the life lived exemplified the best or character traits or the worst.  

The truth is, we, all of us, everyone and every part, find our completion, finally, in the love of God.

I want to leave you on this Good Friday with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. 

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. 

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.


5th Word: I Thirst....

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said:  'I thirst.'"  (John 19: 28)

Thirst is not just thirst in Scripture.  Water it not just water.  Both are physical and spiritual.  "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. (Psalm 42: 1)"  "My soul thirsts for you, O God, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63: 1)"  To a woman drawing water from a well, Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again--but those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty. (John 4: 13)"  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5: 6)"

Our souls thirst for God as our bodies thirst for water.  We don't learn to thirst.  But life depends upon learning to recognize it and respond appropriately.  

"I thirst."  There is something deeply human about this word of Jesus.  The powerlessness of it.  The desperation.  It is indicative of one who has emptied himself, who has poured out his life for us.

For us living in the early 21st Century in the places we do in these United States, quenching our thirst is a simple matter.  We don't get anxious when we get thirsty.  We simply quench it in any number of ways.  Of course, the deeper question is:  have we lost our capacity to recognize the thirst of the soul?  Do we recognize the persistent dryness of spirit that cries out for water, the telltale cracks in the parched landscape of our interior lives that long for relief?  Do we lose our compassion for those who thirst in a dry and weary land where there is no water?

My parents used to take long trips on a motorcycle.  Once in the southwest US,  they were riding through the desert.  My father, who has always had a poor sense of direction, lost his way.  Lost way led to lost way.  The heat was unbearable.  My mother began to faint.  In her semi-conscious state, he had to hold her on with one arm and with the other throttle them faster and faster into lostness in search of water.  When they finally came to a motel/gas station, he parked the bike, took my mother in his arms and stumbled towards the swimming pool and, without missing a step, leapt in--full weather gear and all.  Thirst had never felt so real.  Water never so sacred.

Thirst can save us if it sends us in search of water.  

4th Word: My God, My God....

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 

All attempts to equate faith in God with escape from suffering, with unbroken, uninterrupted, constant comforting awareness of presence and accompaniment are undone by this 4th word from the cross.  Here is the incarnate Word of God in utter desolation crying out into the darkness of his sense of abandonment, his overwhelming experience of absence.  

All of our experiences of the absence of God, of alienation from God find their articulation, their resonance here in these words.  Whatever these words are—a plea, a protest, a question, an accusation—they are first and foremost a prayer.  These words are actually a quote, word for word, from the opening verse of Psalm 22.  The first verse of a long prayer for deliverance from hostility and suffering.  Ultimately, the Psalm reads like a prayer of trust.  To quote the first verse is to invoke the whole Psalm.

Jesus would have known this Psalm.  It would have been in his repertoire of prayers.  He would have known it by heart.  Prayer is a powerful thing.  Like getting the wind knocked out of us, there are times when we find ourselves praying because the moment we are in knocks it out of us...when all other language fails us, there is the language of prayer.  Because there is God, there is prayer even when, especially when it feels like there is no God.

3rd Word: Woman, Behold your son...

In this 3rd Word, Jesus speaks a word to those few who have remained...

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Family is complicated.  While family looms large in the early scenes of Jesus' life, namely his birth, they are almost invisible after that...except for the time when his mother, Mary, and some of his brothers show up to urge him to come home.  At that point, Jesus essentially says his family are those who are with him in his ministry.  And now here, at the darkest, saddest, most tragic moment of his life, here is Mary...once again.  How often family is recovered in and by great suffering.  Birth and death have a way of constituting families...bringing them back into view when, for whatever reason, they have faded into a deep background.

Family is complicated but family matters.  There is something profoundly human about family. The grief of a mother for her son and the compassion of a son for this mother is on full display. The community that Jesus is leaving behind is to be more than family, but never less.  The complications of family are to be gathered up, healed, and made whole in and through the life of the community that will be formed by the way of the cross. No one is to be left homeless or orphaned or alone.

2nd Word: You will be with me...

In the first word, Jesus prayed for others.  In this second word, Jesus answers a prayer with the promise, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."   Here is the whole passage:  (Luke 23: 39-43)

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

It is the simplest of all prayers:  "Jesus, remember me."  And the answer, a simple but profound promise, "You will be with me."

When all is said and done, perhaps that is the final and most enduring hope we have:  that we will be remembered...by God.  Perhaps the life of faith is embodied in this simple prayer: "Jesus, remember me."  And all that we call hope hangs on this grace-filled promise: "You will be with me."

When a loved one looks at us, perhaps at a moment of parting, and says (in one way or another), "I will never forget you," it is a moment of pure grace and love.  One thing they are saying is I will forget anything that would keep me from remembering you.  I will remember YOU.  

In his final moments of life, Jesus answers the prayer of a complete stranger with words of an undying love:  you will be with me.  

Make this your prayer today:  "Jesus, remember me."  

And listen for the answer.