On Good Friday
afternoon, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, preached the Tre Ore Ceremony of the Seven Last Words of Christ in St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. Below is the seventh reflection based on Luke 23:44:?46
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”:
and when he had said this, he breathed his last.
From the midst of the terror and violence of Calvary comes Jesus' piercing voice, his life breath poured out in a final prayer: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." [23:46]. The words are from Psalm 31 [v.6] and express the core of Jesus' being – his unshakable trust in God, a trust that death itself could not destroy. Why does Luke place the words of this psalm on Jesus’ lips and not Psalm 22 from the accounts of Matthew and Mark? Could it be that Jesus prayed not one but both psalms in his final moments? What does this tell us about the Lukan Jesus’ piety and devotion?
Let’s go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel. On the banks of the Jordan River, he heard the words from heaven, “You are my beloved.” Throughout this entire Gospel, Jesus lives and dies in intimate relationship with his beloved Father. Throughout the Gospel, he remains faithful to his identity. In the Sermon on the Mount on a Galilean hillside, Jesus exclaimed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they are the sons and daughters of God.” “Love your enemies, then you will be sons and daughters of the God who lets the sun shine on the good and the bad and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” From the desert to the cross, Jesus resisted the temptation to deny his true identity, to doubt God. He trusted in God, and in the end, surrendered to God. He wants us to do the same. With his dying breath in Luke’s account, Jesus surrenders himself unconditionally to God. “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
The Gospel invites us to claim our true identities as sons and daughters of the God. As we prepare for our own deaths, we may wish to make Jesus’ words our own, and cultivate that interior attitude of unconditional surrender to God. If we want to be able to utter them on the day of our own deaths, we need to start saying them now, and live our way into that loving surrender of our lives to God.
It is said that the final moments of one’s life provide a snapshot or an MRI into the entire life. Jesus' spiritual life was steeped in the Psalms of David, the prayer book of ancient Israel. The Son of God was a descendant of David and was hailed on Palm Sunday as the Son of David [Matt 21:9]. When He prayed Psalm 31 from the Cross, Jesus was expressing the leitmotif of his entire life: tremendous trust in God in the midst of agony and suffering, and even seeming abandonment. In his dying moments, Jesus reached into the depths of his experience for the words of his ancestor David. In this extraordinary moment of intimacy, He referred to Psalm 31:5 "Into your hands I commit my spirit" because He implicitly trusted in God. The two belong together: trust nurtured by intimacy; intimacy nurtured by trust. The intimate word Jesus added to the words of David wasFather. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Just before his final expression of trust, the evangelist Luke tells us that the heavy curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Whereas as people have interpreted this event in many different ways, this detail is a clear indicator of a newly opened avenue to God. The structures of worship can be either obstacles and bridges. They both separate worshipers from and connect worshipers to the divine. But in the tearing of the temple veil we see that the formal separation between worshipers and the One who is Adored is destroyed as Jesus Himself provides free and open access. In Jesus crucified, we behold the one who is indeed our Way, our Truth, and our Life. In Jesus’ death, we experience God’s mercy for humanity.
The opposite of mercy is not justice but vengeance. Jesus did not oppose mercy to justice but to the law of retaliation: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex 21:24). In forgiving sinners God is renouncing not justice but vengeance; he does not desire the death of a sinner but wants the sinner to convert and live (see Ez 18:23). On the cross Jesus did not ask his Father for vengeance. He entrusted himself into the hands of a loving Father, forgave criminals, absorbed the evil, wretchedness and sin of the human condition, and bowed his head in peace.
The Cross of Christ amassed all the arrows of evil: hatred, violence, injustice, pain, humiliation – everything that is suffered by the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the exploited, the marginalized and the disgraced in our world. However, rest assured – all who are crucified in this life – that, just as in the case of Christ, the Resurrection follows the cross; that hatred, violence and injustice have no prospect; and that the future belongs to justice, love and life. Therefore, we must journey toward this end with all the resources that we have in love, faith and patience.
The words come to us with difficulty today... we are stunned and we mourn and grieve over the loss of the dearest member of our community. Let us turn to the Scriptures and make the prayers of Jesus' friends our prayers as we remember Jesus' death in Jerusalem. Perhaps we need to cry out with: "Where are you, God?" "If only you would have been here, our brother or sister would not have died!" And today we are given the answer: God is hanging on a tree, in the broken body of a young man – arms outstretched to embrace us, and gently asking us to climb up onto the cross with him, and look at the world from an entirely new perspective.
Or perhaps we need to cry out for mercy, asking that he not forget us in the new Jerusalem: "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." Or maybe in the midst of our despair, we recognize the source of our hope and echo the words of Jesus, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
And from the depth of our own darkness and shadows, we might have to pray with the Cleopas and his wife on the road to Emmaus, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening and the day is far spent." Then perhaps we are Peter, stunned with his master's extraordinary gentleness and patience with him, and we can only utter, "But Lord, you know that I love you."
Let me leave you with these words from a great pastor and shepherd of the Church who was like a meteor lighting up our night for only 33 days back in 1978. Before being elected to the See of Peter and taking the name of John Paul I, Cardinal Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice, wrote a weekly column in his diocesan newspaper. The column consisted of letters to various personalities and great figures in history. One of the last letters he wrote was to Jesus, written in trepidation. I quote from that deeply moving letter:
"At this spectacle of people rushing to a Crucifix for so many centuries and from every part of the world, a question arises: Was this only a great, beneficent man or was He a God? You Yourself gave the answer and anyone whose eyes are not veiled by prejudice but are eager for the light will accept it.
When Peter proclaimed: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God," You not only accepted this confession but also rewarded it. You have always claimed for Yourself that which the Jews reserved for God. To their scandal You forgave sins, You called Yourself master of the Sabbath, You taught with supreme authority, You declared Yourself the equal of the Father. Several times they tried to stone You as a blasphemer, because You uttered the name of God. When they finally took You and brought You before the high priest, he asked You solemnly: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" You answered, "I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." You accepted even death rather than retract and deny this divine essence of yours.
I have written, but I have never before been so dissatisfied with my writing. I feel as if I had left out the greater part of what could be said of You, that I have said badly what should have been said much better. There is one comfort, however: the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ.
And fortunately – in spite of everything– this still happens."
Cardinal Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I)
"To Jesus: I Write in Trepidation" in Illustrissimi
Letters from Pope John Paul I
It still happens. And it is happening today in our midst here in Seattle in this magnificent and vibrant Cathedral parish. Whatever our words may be, there is a consolation, that if we pray them with reverence, then our prayers will be heard. They never go unanswered. Jesus, the great high priest intercedes for us and even gives us the words that are necessary when our human words fail. For it was this great high priest who has marked us as his own through our baptism, and today, immerses us into the priesthood of his suffering. He entrusted himself into the hands of his Father and he entrusts himself into our hands, that we may bear him to the world that so badly needs his message, his presence, his mercy and forgiveness. On this day when we remember Jesus’ final gift to humanity, let us entrust ourselves into the hands of a merciful God and as we make the sign of the cross, let us be mindful of that common priesthood and mission so lavishly given to each of us through Jesus' death on the cross.
"In the Name of the Father"
depending on God, we touch our minds because we know so little how to create a world of peace and hope.
"In the Name of the Son"
depending on God, we touch the center of our body to bring acceptance to the fears and pain stemming from our own passage through death to life.
"In the Name of the Spirit"
depending on God, we embrace our heart to remember that from the center of the cross, God's vulnerable heart can bring healing and salvation to our own."