each year, the congregations in Milan gather to observe Good Friday together. this year, the Milan Free Methodist Church is our host. in fact, I'm heading out in just a couple of minutes to pray with my fellow pastors before the service.
each of us was asked to share a 5 minute or shorter meditation on some aspect of Jesus' words on the cross; Luke 23:46 fell to me. for those who are unable to attend, I've posted my notes below...
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Luke writes this verse in compelling, poetic Greek, full of alliterative sounds and ideas, rhymes and echoes. Luke wants our eyes to linger on this text, on this moment, wants our ears to resonate with these last pregnant breaths of Jesus. Indeed, the Greek words for “called out with a loud voice” are the same words from which we get our word, “mega phone.” In other words, when we most want to look away from this awful sight, out of sadness, out of horror, out of respect even for the dignity of this dying man, when we most want to cover our ears and wish it all away, Jesus wants us to hear. Why? What is the meaning, the message in these final words?
Here Jesus, the word made flesh, speaks with us. Here Jesus, the Son of God, speaks to us. Here Jesus, the Son of Man, speaks for us. May we who have ears to hear, hear.
These words – into your hands I commit my spirit– come from the songbook of Israel, the 31st psalm, the 5th verse. They were first the words of King David under daunting duress and distress. “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God.” Over time, countless other human beings have prayed this psalm when it seems all hope is fading. Using David’s prayer as a lifeline when we seem to have come to the end of the line. Now Jesus, the word made flesh, joins with us in these words. He doesn’t make up new or better or more effective words. And if what has been given to us is enough for him in his darkest hour, than surely we have been given a great treasure indeed. And we can know that as we pray those same psalms in our distress, our prayers are rounding out echoes of his in the heavens.
Jesus, the Son who first calls that faithful God Father, is also saying something to us. Just as your prayers are my prayers, my Father is your Father. And he hears our prayers. Jesus’ words may sound like a resignation, an end, but he trusts that somehow, someway, his Father will come through. He chooses just one line from the psalm, perhaps because that is all the breath he has left, but he wants us to hear the whole psalm and take heart from it. Because the psalm ends, in part, like this: In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help…Be strong and take heart, all you hope in the Lord.
And what kind of hope is it that we are to have, that Jesus has, that Luke wants us to see in this final moment? It is the hope of new creation, the hope that through Jesus’ death on the cross, God is setting everything right that has gone wrong. The hope that this rest that Jesus will enter as the Sabbath draws near will be the final Sabbath of the old and dying creation, and that he will rise on the first day of a new creation that cannot be corrupted, that cannot fall subject to sin and death and strife.
Because in the first creation, God formed humanity out of the earth and breathed breath – the same word used for spirit – into the first Adam. And the first Adam took that breath, and as all of us who have come after him have done as well, he used that breath for his own purposes, and not God’s.
Now Jesus, the Son of Man on the cross, is speaking for all of us, as our representative, on our behalf, and committing back to God the spirit that we had taken for ourselves. Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit. If only any of us could pray that truly, wholeheartedly, without any reservation. We can’t, but Jesus can. And he does. And as he breathes his last the Father receives his offer.
And as Luke will tell us a couple of chapters later, in the book we call Acts, the spirit of Jesus is poured out once again on humanity, the Holy Spirit of a new creation, a breath from heaven that is incorruptible, that transforms us from the inside out into a new creation for the glory of God. Oh what a Savior, that he would give his last dying breath so that we might receive a first new and living breath.