The Disharmony between God and Creation
And, Christ’s Harmonizing Work:
The Last Words of Jesus
By The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle
I begin with a poem by the Nicene Church Father Clement of Alexandria, from the third century:
Sunset to sunrise changes now,
For God creates the world anew;
On the redeemer’s thorn-crowned brow,
The Wonders of that dawn we view.
Although the sun withholds its light
Yet a more heav’nly lamp shines here;
And from the cross on Calv’ry’s height
Gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o’erwhelming final strife
The Lord of life has victory;
And sin is slain, and death brings life,
And earth inherits heaven’s key. (Triduum 1 [T1], 50)
In the Gospel’s witness to Jesus Christ’s death on the cross we receive what the theologian Paul Ricour called “uniquely unique” testimony of the events. (Richard Bauckhman, Jesus and the Eye Witnesses [JAEW], 507)
What we do and read and meditate upon today is an exceptional disclosure of the death of the humble king, the prophet, the healer, the rabbi, the Son of God.
This witness to the moment of Jesus’ death is irreducible to simply a historical account. For these witnesses, these Gospellers, stand uniquely at the foot of the cross and in the immediate tidal wake of the cross. We are receiving when we read and meditate upon these words of Jesus insider knowledge from involved participants. They are engaged in the event, and interpreting it in its moment. They speak to us out of their own ongoing attempts to understand this truly significant and world changing event. (JAEW, 505)
So as we step into this time of meditation we read, we hear, we respond to a faithful witness, which is accurate and faithful to the meaning and witness of the crucifixion. (JAEW, 505)
So it is that what we do today is to remember, to bear witness to the particular and unique understanding, the testimony of the act of crucifixion as a vehicle and vessel of God’s grace and love. Like the first witness we see what is disclosed in the historical event, and know and understand it as the revelation of God. We see the intertwining of history and the hand of God at work in the world.
It reminds me of that passage from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
What we do today is of multiple strands, a threefold chord.
We are hearing the eyewitness testimony as reflected and remembered by the first followers of Jesus.
We are pondering the meaning and significance of our Lord’s death – for the church – that sacred community which is the first fruits of God’s salvific work.
And we are exploring the meaning of this event theologically as it applies to our lives.
We are in some way I suppose making Gospel. We are today in the things we do, through the manner of our listening and praying and signing, bearing witness to the Good News of God in Christ and of Salvation.
In our listening to the first witnesses and their testimony of Jesus’ words upon the cross we are becoming both witnesses (through our remembering) but we are also becoming Gospellers (through our telling).
So we turn from the world, we give our time to God this day. We offer and honor him with our presence, and we make known, through the things we do this day, the saving work of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Salvation
“Woman, behold your son: behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27) The Family of God
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). Wholly Other
“I thirst.” (John 19:28). Suffering
“It is finished.” (John 19:30). Victory
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Harmony
So I invite you pilgrim to come with me. I invite those of you who have made lent holy by your sacrifice and reflection, and those of you who did not…come and make your way to the foot of the cross. See here your own transformation caught in the remaking of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Come and see.
Come take your place at the foot of Jesus’ cross and see the hand of God at work…shaping…making…remaking…and transforming the world…
As the Israeli poet Abrahm Shlonsky wrote on life and death:
In the presence of eyes
Which witnessed the slaughter,
Which saw the oppression
The heart could not bear,
And as witness the heart
That once taught compassion
Until days came to pass
That crushed human feeling,
I have taken an oath: To remember it all,
To remember, not once to forget!
Forget not one thing to the last generation
When degradation shall cease,
To the last, to its ending,
When the rod of instruction
Shall have come to conclusion.
An oath: Not in vain passed over the night of terror.
An oath: No morning shall see me at flesh pots again.
An oath: Lest from this we learned nothing. (T1, 101)
Meditation One: Forgiveness
Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The hymn writer and Episcopal priest Carl P. Daw, Jr. wrote:
How shallow former shadows seem
beside this great reverse
As darkness swallows up the Light
of all the universe:
Creation shivers at the shock,
the Temple rends its veil,
A pallid stillness stifles time,
and nature’s motions fail.
This is no midday fantasy,
no flight o fevered brain.
With vengeance awful, grim and real,
chaos is come again:
The hands that formed us from the soil
are nailed upon the cross;
The Word that gave us life and breath
expires in utter loss.
Yet deep within this darkness lives
a Love so fierce and free
That arcs all voids and -- risk supreme! –
Its perfect testament is etched
in iron, blood and wood;
With awe we glimpse its true import
and dare to call it good. (T1, 88)
The first meditation is on Forgiveness. The passage is taken from Luke’s Gospel chapter 23:34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been tried and has made his way with the help of Simon of Cyrene carrying his cross, past the weeping women of Jerusalem to the place of execution the place called “the skull.” There they crucify Jesus with two criminals one on either side.
After a day of torture and trial, a day of pain and suffering, a day of shame Jesus says these words, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do". (Luke 23. 34th verse)
The soldiers continue to jeer and sneer at him, the people standing by as he suffers. The soldiers gamble for his cloak. Still others mock and deride him calling him so save himself. They chide and tease calling him Messiah and chosen one. And he says, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".
They mock him and give him sour wine. They say, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23.37) And he says: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“It is immensely easier to suffer in obedience to a human command than to suffer in the freedom of one’s own responsible deed. It is immensely easier to suffer with others than to suffer alone. It is immensely easier to suffer openly and honorably than apart and in shame. It is immensely easier to suffer through commitment of the physical life than in the spirit. Christ suffered in freedom, alone, apart and in shame, in body and spirit…” (T1, 86)
This first saying of Jesus on the cross is traditionally called "The Word of Forgiveness". It is theologically interpreted as Jesus' prayer for forgiveness for those who were crucifying him: the Roman soldiers, and for all others who were involved in his crucifixion.
In these words which begin the death of the prophet we see a revelation of who Jesus is, and our work of forgiveness.
In Luke’s Gospel the testimony is that Jesus is living out before us and exemplifying the life of virtue and that he does this to the very end of his life.
Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is the most high prophet, humble king, and Son of God. He is the righteous one the great teacher, the Sophos, with whom God is well pleased.
These words here on the cross match the words of Jesus’ own prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and touch on a key teaching of Jesus throughout his journey from Bethlehem to the place of the Skull.
So essential was Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness that it continues not only through the testimony of the Gospel of Luke, but throughout the first witnesses to Jesus resurrection. Some 14 different chapters in the Gospel of Luke Acts are concerned with Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness and the disciples’ own witness, teaching and practice of forgiveness after the resurrection.
Jesus’ words on the cross are the hallmark of the proclamation of forgiveness. God forgives. God forgives. God forgives.
When one sins God forgives.
When one repents God forgives.
Before one asks God forgives.
In and through our intentionality and when we are not intentional God forgives.
When we do things and leave things undone God forgives.
When others do things that are sinful and we benefit indirectly God forgives.
God forgives. God forgives. God forgives.
Meditation Two: Salvation
Luke 23:43 “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Charles Wesley the theologian, hymn writer, and Anglican missionary and priest of the eighteenth century wrote:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who cause his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That though, my God, shouldst die for me?
‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tires
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left his Father’s throne above-
So free, so infinite his grace-
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me! (T1, 115)
Meditation Two: Salvation, the passage is from Luke 23:43 “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke’s Gospel continues and we well remember that Jesus is accompanied upon the cross with two criminals. One of the criminals keeps deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” He is speaking to Jesus abusively. The other one, perhaps out of fear, or respect we know not which, rebukes him and says, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” For they are all three suffering under the same sentence of judgment, under the same sentence of God. He goes on to say, “We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this mans has done nothing wrong.” (23:39-41)
This is the fourth time in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus’ innocence is proclaimed. Literally in Greek he is saying that Jesus is out of place and is not a wrongdoer.
Then this criminal, the one who is concerned, the one who speaks the truth, speaks to Jesus. “Jesus,” he says, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is interesting here that the text may be read in two different ways. On the one hand it is about this remembering today, or there could be a second interpretation from the Greek meaning that he hopes Jesus will remember him when he comes. Furthermore, the only time that Jesus’ name is used in the Gospel of Luke is either when a person is crying out for healing or when demoniacs call on him. (LTJ, Luke, 378)
Jesus, the name itself, means “the Lord saves.”
Jesus then replies, “Truly I tell you today (ἀμήν λέγω σοί, amēn legō soi), you will be with me in Paradise (παραδείσω, paradeisō, from the Persian pairidaeza "paradise garden").” (23:42-43)
And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise".
Paradise is only used three times in the New Testament and always refers back to the garden in which was the “tree of life.”(LTJ, Luke, 378) If we broaden our search to read the scripture and see that Paradise is a place of joy and pleasure (Gen 2.15), later in the prophetic books our wilderness is to become like a paradise on a fertile river. Even rabbinic teaching of the first century understood a life after death which was a place where brothers lived together with God. (LTJ, Luke, 379)
The Gospel of Luke gives a unique picture of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, mixing the supporters of Jesus with the leaders, the people, and the criminals. Each is bearing witness to the event. Each is and will be able to give testimony to what they see and experience.
It is the midst of this camaraderie of experience, of common witness, that Jesus is revealed in his words as the one who saves, as our Savior. Each of the individuals combines a title and the challenge to save himself.
For the leaders he is the Messiah, the elect one.
For the soldiers he is the King of the Jews.
Luke Timothy Johnson, the Lukan scholar writes:
The distance between Jesus as the proclaimer of God’s kingdom and his opponents has never been clearer, for they can understand no salvation except that involving the perpetuation of his human existence. (Luke, 380)
Yet we know and understand through the revelation of our scripture and the testimony of centuries of Gospel proclamation that it is “through faith that god has brought salvation in the words and deeds of Jesus. (Luke, 380)
We know and understand in our time that salvation is not a restoration of the Constantinian Faithful Empire; because in reading Luke’s Gospel we know that salvation is not the political liberation for which many of his followers hoped. (Luke, 380) Salvation was not as we see in this passage a perpetuation of life.
Salvation is the restoration of creation, and specifically of God’s people by the forgiveness of sins.
In this passage and in Jesus’ words we see the irony of human life lived with God. We see Jesus extending forgiveness to his executioners, even as their mocking shows them incapable of receiving it (23.34). And to the criminal who responds to Jesus in faith, asking to ‘be remembered’ in the kingdom, Jesus responds with the promise of a place with him in paradise. (23.43).” (LTJ, Luke, 380)
In this crucifixion scene we see the prophet and humble king enhanced as he fulfills all that he has said would happen earlier in the narrative.
Luke is making a witness to who the person of Jesus is.
It is his testimony that Jesus is the one who saves us. He is the one who forgives, he is the one who saves, and this action takes place on the cross in the offering of these last words, and in his death which is to come.
Meditation Three: The family of God?
Behold your son: behold your mother
Brian Wren a hymnist, author, educator and member of the United Reformed Church wrote these words:
Lord God, your love has called us here
As we, by love, for love were made.
Your living likeness still we bear,
Though marred, dishonored, disobeyed.
We come, with all our heart and mind
Your call to hear, your love to find.
We come with self-inflicted pains
Of broken trust and chosen wrong,
Half-free, half-bound by inner chains,
By social forces swept along,
By powers and systems close confined
Yet seeking hope for humankind.
Lord god, in Christ you call our name
And then receive us as your own
Not through some merit, right or claim
But by your gracious love alone.
We strain to glimpse your mercy seat
And find you kneeling at our feet.
Then take the towel, and break the bread,
And humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed
And show how grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
To fill all worlds, to crown all things.
Lord God, in Christ you set us free
Your life to live, your joy to share.
Give us your Spirits liberty
To turn from guild and dull despair
And offer all that faith can do
While love is making all things new.
Meditation three: The Family of God. From John’s Gospel chapter 19:26-27. This statement is traditionally referred to as "The Word of Relationship" and in it Jesus entrusts Mary, his mother, into the care of a disciple.
In John’s Gospel after the soldiers have finished the nasty work of crucifying Jesus, they take his clothes and divide them into four parts. In this manner each gets a piece of the historical relic.
But when it comes to the tunic, which is seamless, they choose to cast lots for it. This moment is the central symbolic image of this portion of the Gospel. In a mystical way the rending of the seamless tunic is a symbol of the created order fashioned and whole by the Logos becoming torn in the death of Jesus himself.
This action of casting die for the article is prophesied and therefore fulfills what the scripture had said,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
25And John says… “that is what the soldiers did.”
We are told by John that, “standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
Other Gospel accounts remember and bear witness to the friends and followers of Jesus standing far away, fulfilling the words of Psalm 38.12: My kinsmen stand at a distance from me.”
John however is clear, the women were witnesses. They were close. They were eyewitnesses and they along with the beloved Disciple heard and saw these things.
There are four women in all. There are volumes written about how many women were standing there. (Raymond Brown, John, vol 2, 906) I am going with the New Testament scholar Raymond Brown’s understanding that there are four. Moreover, that the important fact being testified to is that his family is present. There are a number of women, family, friends, and followers all.
This is important as it bears on the statement significantly and is unique in the witness of the Gospels.
The disciple whom he loved is there as well. He is standing beside them. This is the only time he is not in Peter’s company. This disciple is mentioned five times and it is his witness that makes up the Gospel of John. (Raymond Brown, John, vol 2 [RBJ], 906)
Jesus then address his mother saying, “26Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
This is a momentary interruption in the Gospel’s witness of the crucifixion and points to a relationship of the future.
Certainly in this moment the importance of the disciple is revealed to be high, so important that Jesus on his cross raises him to the “rank of his own brother.” (RBJ, 923) As we reflect on this we may see clearly and understand what seems of the utmost importance and that is the family nature of the words that Jesus uses. The words “this is your son” is an adoption formula (RBJ, 907) It certainly is similar to other scriptural forms. What is unique is that it is definitely a revelation of the work of the cross, especially as witnessed by John’s Gospel.
All of the ancient church theologians speak of this action by Jesus as being part of the care taking of his mother, of his family, and of his friends. But there is more too that they see in this passage.
Let us here be mindful of the very next words that are to come, “After this [Jesus was] aware that all was no finished.” (RBJ, 923] This adds a dimension to the care of family and friends.
The disciple and his mother are representative of all the followers of Jesus throughout the fourth Gospel and as it points to the future family relationship I would say of all those faithful saints who have followed and follow Jesus today.
Perhaps like the great historian and New Testament scholar Jurgaan Bultmann Mary represent the Jewish Christendom and the Disciple the Gentile Christendom united. This is what the first systematic theologian of the church Origen wrote:
Every man who becomes perfect no longer lives his own life, but Christ lives in him. And because Christ lives in him, it was said to Mary concerning him, “here is your son, Christ.” (RBJ, 924)
This too adds dimension and thought to the revelation of this particular text.
Origen’s words captures the idea of the nature of discipleship of following Jesus. It is at once an individual connection to Jesus and thus to the Godhead, and it is also the connection of the community; one disciple with another.
Ephraem the Syrian states that just as Moses appointed Joshua in his stead to take care of the people so Jesus appoints the disciple. Ambrose in the west maintains the mystery of the church is revealed in the words, “here is your mother.” Moreover, that in this mystery of adoption made possible by Jesus Christ’s words and his victory on the cross, the Christian, the follower of Jesus, the disciple becomes sons and daughters of the family of God the Church. (RBJ, 924)
We can hardly see the new relationship of mother and son and daughters as none other than Lady Zion’s giving birth to a new people in the age of Christian mission and discipleship. Like the mother in Revelation 12.5 and 17 this adoption, this new birth and the bringing forth of new children is a family of God which fulfills all righteousness as did Jesus and themselves keep the commandments of God. (RBJ, 926)
We might remember that in John’s Gospel 14:21-23 “we are told that those who keep the commandments are loved by Father and Son, so that a beloved disciple is one who keeps the commandments. (RBJ, 926)
Not unlike this new relationship between the mother and son, we are adopted by Christ into the church the wider and ever growing family of God - the first fruits of the resurrection.
“Behold,” Jesus says to the disciple whom he loved, “behold and see your mother….behold mother…and see your son.”
Behold I see before me my brothers and my sisters
Behold next to you your brother
See all around you the family of God.
See and behold the miraculous creation that is being brought forth by the cross of Christ.
See the reconciling of the world one to another
See the death of enemies.
See the birth of friendships.
See the healing of division.
See the power of the cross and the love of Christ.
Behold all is being made new.
Meditation Four: Wholly Other
Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Francis Xavier, the sixteenth century Roman who co-founded the Society of Jesus, a monk and mystic wrote:
I love thee, Lord, but not because I hope for heav’n thereby, not yet for fear that loving not I might forever die, but for that thou dist all the world upon the cross embrace; for us dist bear the nails and spears, and manifold disgrace, and grief’s and torments numberless, and sweat of agony, e’en death itself; and all for one who was thine enemy.
Then, why, most loving, Jesus Christ,
Should I not love thee well,
Not for the sake of winning heav’n nor any fear of hell,
Not with the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward,
But as thyself has loved me, O ever loving Lord? (T1, 98)
Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
This saying is traditionally called "The Word of Abandonment" and is the only saying that appears in more than one Gospel. It is a sign of the wholly other nature of Jesus’ humanity, of our humanity.
This saying is given in Aramaic with a translation (originally in Greek) after it. This phrase is the opening line of Psalm 22. It was common for people at this time to reference songs by quoting their first lines.
In the verses immediately following this saying, in both Gospels, the onlookers who hear Jesus' cry understand him to be calling for help from Elijah (Eliyyâ).
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
It is likely that Jesus recited the whole psalm. In understanding this we are reminded that the psalm itself, which continues, even in our next phrase, is one that moves from despair to faith to praise. (Allison and Davies, Matthew vol 3 [ADM], 625)
“Unlike the glorious death of a martyr,” write the New Testament scholars Allison and Davies in their tome on the Gospel of Matthew:
Of Jesus heroic valour and faith we hear nothing. [These] verses do not encourage or inspire but rather depict human sin and its frightening freedom in the unfathomable divine silence. There is terror in this text. The mocking and torture of the innocent and righteous Son of God are not intended to make but to shatter sense, to portray the depths of irrational human depravity. And the patient endurance of feelings of abandonment powerfully conveys the frightening mystery of God’s seeming inactivity in the world. (ADM, 639)
While we typically imagine that Jesus is purely speaking of his abandonment by God, we cannot forget the Matthean theme of abandonment.
Jesus was first abandoned by his country, then his followers, and then the crowds. (ADM625)
In the midst of despair and loss is also our salvation. Allison and Davies write:
[Jesus words do] not express a loss of faith –certainly the soldiers who soon confess Jesus Son of God have seen no such loss – but it is instead a cry of pain in a circumstance 9unparalleled elsewhere in the narrative) in which God has not shown himself to be God. And yet the truth, apparent from what follows, is that God has not forsaken Jesus. The abandonment, although real, is not the final fact. God does finally vindicate his son. (ADM, 625)
It is this abandonment, our abandonment of God, that we need saving from.
We believe and claim as Episcopalians that we are part of creation and made in the image of God and that we are given the ability to make choices: to love to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God. (BCP, 852)
But that we have forever “misused” our freedom and made wrong choices. Again and again we have abandoned God.
Not unlike the crowds or disciples in our Gospel. We too much like to be God ourselves and be responsible for our own salvation. We are afraid and our fear cowers us from responsibility.
Our only help is in the saving work of Jesus Christ, and in his promise.
We believe that God has forever worked at and continues to work at revealing himself and his will to us in nature, history, through the saints, and prophets of Israel.
As our Eucharistic prayers says God continually called us to return:
From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.
Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace. By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed. (BCP, 370)
We know that this sin has power over us and that we lose our freedom when our “relationship with God is distorted.” (BCP, 845) God does the work of salvation when God redeems us and “sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.” (BCP, 845)
We recognize through the prophetic witness of scripture who the person of Jesus is and that God has prepared us to accept the coming of Christ into our lives.
We bear witness that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God and the perfect image of the Father, revealing us who God is and his nature.
We believe that we are adopted. That we like all who stand beneath the shadow of the cross are adopted as children of God and made heirs of God’s kingdom in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and through his teachings, and in his promise to us.
In Jesus’ abandonment we are not abandoned.
In Jesus’ suffering we are saved.
As psalm 22 says, “On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.”
We bear witness and testify to the importance of Jesus’ suffering, his abandonment, and death on the cross.
It is the power of his loneliness and his suffering, it is the very words that illustrate and make plain his obedience to suffering and death that Jesus himself makes the offering we could not make.
That in Jesus, in him we are freed forever. We are given a means and way into eternal life.
So hear the words of suffering. Hear in them God’s profound love for us.
Hear God’s embrace of all that is human misery and death being consumed.
As Jesus breaths out these words hear in them the power of Christ crucified to forever bridge the gap between life and death.
We shall never die alone because our savior did.
Meditation Five: Suffering
John 19:28: I thirst
From Psalm 22
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
This statement “I thirst” is traditionally called "The Word of Distress".
These words from John’s Gospel come shortly after the words of Jesus to his mother and to the disciple whom he loved.
John understands the intimate connection between Jesus’ words “I thirst” and the psalms 22 and 69.
19 You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonour;
my foes are all known to you.
20 Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
A jar full of sour wine is used by means of a sponge and brought up to his mouth via a branch of hyssop.
This event and Jesus’ words are connected to his great work. Death is upon him.
The importance of the phrase may lie in the antecedents, “aware of his death.” For the Gospel and for us what we recognize in these words is the impending completion. He is bringing to a close his prophetic death; he is fulfilling all the scriptures with these words. He is fulfilling all righteousness.
The witness and testimony is that Jesus is bring to fulfillment all of the old covenant and its promise of a suffering Messiah.
Jesus’ thirst is an expression of Jesus’ desire to go to God and to assure the salvation of the world. Such an idea is buoyed by the notion that the scriptural context for the hyssop is used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the Israelite doors the night of the Passover. (RBJ, 930)
We too thirst.
Like the woman at the well we thirst for the living water. (John 4.7ff) In John’s Gospel the image and symbolism of water is the Holy Spirit poured out for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.
We thirst and we pray heavenly Father give us a drink. Let us drink deeply of the waters of life poured out from the fountain which is the cross of Christ.
We know and we see and we hear and bear witness to the gift of Jesus Christ crucified and suffering before us. We know and claim the gift.
We know that if we drink from the fountain of Christ’s sacrifice we will never thirst again.
As Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Fully aware of God’s sacrifice we plead, “Give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.”
Jesus says to us: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Our sacred response to the satiated thirst is to beckon others to “Come and see.” We bear witness that this is the savior of the world.
We bear witness by living out the life of Christ crucified. We live out our witness having received living water.
As children of the Most High God we bear witness to all conditions of people, we are merciful and act with justice and kindness.
We do not judge, and we do not condemn. We forgive. Knowing thirst ourselves, and having found the living water of Jesus Christ we so work in the world that those whose cups are empty run over with our love and care; in our incarnational witness to Jesus Christ.
Having thirst for the living water, and having drunk deeply, we do good, without expecting anything in return, we lose hope in no one, we forgive without expectation.
This is the standard of the recreated, transformed, disciple of Jesus Christ. This is our work to do good, hope in all, and to forgive all.
Our actions and lives are to reflect the covenantal actions of our God who pours out the living water through his sacrificial offering of himself.
As a hyssop branch is used to provide safety for every house of Israel as the Lord passes over, we are to offer the same living water to all.
That the world may come to know God and Christ crucified, that the world may hunger and thirst no more.
The great Syrian monk and priest John of Damascus wrote:
Come, and let us drink of that New River;
Not from barren rock divinely poured,
But the Fount of Life that is forever
From the Sepulchre of Christ the Lord.
All the world hath bright illumination –
Heav’n and earth and things beneath the earth:
‘Tis the Festival of all Creation:
…Yesterday with thee in burial lying.
Now today with Thee aris’n I rise;
Yesterday the partner of Thy dying,
With Thyself upraise me to the skies.
Meditation Six: Victory
John 19:30: It is finished.
From an Easter sermon by the great liturgist, theologian and Father of the church Hippolytus.
Are you God's friend and lover?
rejoice in this glorious feast of feasts!
Are you God's servant, knowing God's wishes?
be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing!
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
now is your payday!
Have you been working since early morning?
you will be paid fair and square.
Have you been here since the third hour?
you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
come up without fear, you will lose nothing.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
come forward without hesitation.
Even if you came at the eleventh hour?
have no fear; it is not too late.
God is a generous employer,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
God gives to the one and gives to the other:
honours the deed and praises the intention.
Join, then, all of you, join in our Master's rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come now and collect your wages.
Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.
The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There's hospitality for all, and to spare. No more
apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the Master: but he has mastered death
Isaiah knew this would happen, and he cried:
"Death was angered when it met you in the pit."
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered, for it was bound in chains.
Death swallowed a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took what is seen and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Grave, where is your victory?
Glory and power to him for ever and ever!
Jesus said, "It is finished".
This statement is traditionally called "The Word of Triumph" and is theologically interpreted as the announcement of the end of the earthly life of Jesus.
Raymond Brown writes:
"The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. but the Fourth Gospel localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself: When the side of Jesus is pierced, there comes forth blood and later. In 7:38-39 we heard: "From within him shall flow rivers of living water," with the explanation that the water symbolized the Spirit which would be given when Jesus had bee glorified. That is now fulfilled, but the admixture of blood to the water is the sign that Jesus has passed from this world to the Father and has been glorified. It is not impossible that the fourth evangelist intends here a reference not only to the gift of the Spirit but also to the two channels (baptism and the Eucharist) through which the Spirit had been communicated to the believers of his won community, with water signifying baptism, and blood the Eucharist." (RBJ, 930)
The piece that I find the most interesting is the uniqueness of John's Gospel and in particular the last words of Jesus. There is a tremendous feeling of agony and suffering in the last words of the synoptics.
Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's plan to unite the world (its earthiness and creatureliness – its wholly otherness) with the Godhead. The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.
We remember Psalm 22 and how it parallels much of Jesus’ last words. It is both a psalm of suffering, abandonment, thirst, and prayer. Yet it is also a psalm of victory.
24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
It is John's Gospel thought that is most like the end of this psalm. The words, "It is finished." are a victory cry!
Raymond Brown explains it this way,
"In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is similar to "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final bowl of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished." (RBJ, 931)
This victory cry is our victory cry.
The real death upon the cross, the bodily death of Jesus, is the essential ingredient in understanding the bodily resurrection which is new life in the world.
As N. T. Write says in his book Surprised by Hope:
When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15, he didn’t end by saying, “So let’s celebrate the great future life that awaits us.” He ended by saying, “So get on with your work because you know that in the Lord it won’t go to waste.” When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed. (Surprised by Hope, 293ff)
This victory cry, here upon the cross, is the victory that allows us to set about the work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Through the bodily death of Jesus Christ, which is the doorway and gate to resurrection, which is in fact through baptism our doorway to a life of resurrection, is about the beginning, the potter’s remaking of the world – of all of creation.
N. T. Wright makes the point that it at once “point[s] ahead to the renewal, the redemption, the rebirth of the entire creation…[which means that] every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity – doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom – is an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope.” (Surprised by Hope, 294ff)
We, like the criminal, like Jesus’ mother and the disciple whom he loved, each of us, brothers and sisters alike receive the promise of resurrected life through the gate which is the cross of Christ. We are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ.
We are given a life to live out and the work we do participates in the life to come. We are given through the cross the ability to allow our sin and disobedience to be crucified with Jesus so that we may not find before us a stumbling block to the work of proclamation and building of the kingdom of God.
We cannot inherit the promise of eternal life without recognizing that the death of the incarnate God means that we must incarnate the work of God in our lives and in our relationships, in our families and in our communities.
The cross of Christ is freely given. This is true. But with the recognition of such a gift comes the responsibility to participate as virtuous citizens in this world. We are not invited to wait around for the world to come.
In this gospel today, on this hill, beneath the shadow of the cross we are watching the very order of creation remade. We are witnessing the very birth pains of all creation as a new order of life is made through the passion of the Creator God.
And the call comes to us from Luke chapter 9:
23 Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Look and see before you the victory of Jesus Christ upon the cross, pick up your own and follow him.
Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
St. Romanos the sixth century hymnist wrote these words:
O Heaven, be struck with horror;
Earth be plunged in chaos;
Do not dare, Sun, to behold
Your master on the cross,
Hanging there of his own will.
Let rock be shattered, for the rock of life
Is now wounded by nails….
In fact, let all creation shudder and groan
At the passion of the Creator.
Adam alone exults. (T1, 109)
In Luke’s Gospel chapter 23:46 it is written, “And speaking in a loud voice, Jesus said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’".
This saying, which is an announcement and not a request, is traditionally called "The Word of Reunion" and is theologically interpreted as the proclamation of Jesus joining the God the Father in Heaven.
Jesus is in control. He says his prayer and then he exhales. He gives up his spirit. He hands his spirit over.
Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
He has in Luke’s Gospel forgiven his executioners. He has promised paradise to the repentant criminal. And having done these things, he entrust his spirit to his Father in prayer, and dies. He is death is shown to be utterly consistent with his life, his life an enactment of his teaching. He is philosopher, prophet, Lord of God’s Kingdom and Son of God.
Harmony is restored and the distortion and disharmony and gulf that existed between the sons of Adam and the Son of God is forever bridged.
This is the high point of revelation of who God is and this final prayer and breath is the capstone of the work of salvation.
We witness that salvation comes from the Father and that it is necessary for God to reconcile Godself with a creation and humanity which is wholly other.
We understand that we willfully turn away from God as human beings. That all of creation was in need of harmonizing with God.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, Roman Cardinal and friend of Archbishop Rowan Williams, writes in Harvesting the Fruits:
It is the salvific will of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to reconcile to himself all humanity which had turned away from Him through sin, to set creation free from its bondage to decay, and to draw anew all humankind into communion with Himself. (Harvesting the Fruits [HF], 31)
In the scripture we know and understand that this saving work has many names: justification, kingdom of God, salvation, reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, sanctification, grace, new life, new creation, rebirth and many more. (HF, 31)
This passage itself from Luke touches the very nature and fundamental truth of our human condition.
We are saved not by our own means and our good works, nor are we saved by killing the Messiah, but by what Jesus Christ has done for us and what He is for us
Christians all, brothers and sisters, protestant, Roman, non-denominational, Anglican, Episcopalian all understand the central passage of John’s Gospel 3:16-21 to be central; reflecting well the promise of Jesus on the cross to us. It is a vision of God’s love for us and for all.
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
We believe that salvation is the proceeds from the Father and is the work of the triune God:
That the Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners.
That this work is chiefly enacted through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus Christ is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father.
We confess and make our witness that through God’s forgiving grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work, and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God.... (HF, 34)
In this moment of ultimate saving work, and death, Jesus returns to the divine community.
Jesus reconciles us and all creation to God.
The breach between God and God’s creation is forever mended.
Jesus himself takes his created nature, our human nature, into heaven with him, making way that our adoption in this world as sons and daughters of Abraham may be eternal adoption into the family of God in the world to come. (BCP, 848)
The promise to us today, on this side of the heavenly kingdom is to pray “thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” With our saving already undertaken, we are free to begin the work now of living in the world as a saved, redeemed, and justified people.
We are the redeemed sacred community bearing witness to our place within the family of God and the proclamation of the Gospel for the sake of reuniting and continuing the saving work of Jesus.
Paul writes in Romans 8.15 and 23. (CTG, 26)
15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
So it is that in Jesus’ Christ’s suffering and death on the cross he makes way for a new bond of relationship and a new bond of family; that is the family of God on earth which is the Church.
Today we the church, one, catholic, and apostolic make our corporate witness, we make our testimony of the truth of the cross of Christ.
It is finished, his breath is gone, and his pierced side releases the water of life.
The glorification of God through Jesus’ work in life, in ministry, in healing, in preaching, in feeding, and in blessing is finished.
The glorification of God through Jesus’ suffering upon the cross is finished.
Jesus return to the Father begins our work as the family of God -- the church -- in God’s new creation – restored, forgiven, and transformed.
It is finished.
I leave you with these words from Benrhardt S. Ingemann the nineteenth century Danish poet and hymnist:
Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Onward goes the pilgrim band,
Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the promised land.
Clear before us through the darkness
Gleams and burns the guiding light;
Pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim
Stepping fearless through the night.
Onward, therefore, sisters, brothers;
Onward, with the cross our aid.
Bear its shame, and fight its battle
Till we rest beneath its shade.
Soon shall come the great awak’ning;
Soon the rending of the tomb!
Then the scatt’ring of all shadows.
And the end of toil and gloom.