Posted by: Fr Chris | March 29, 2010

Seven Last Words #6

Matthew / Mark “He cried again with a loud voice/ scream and gave up his spirit.”

Luke  Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into

thy hands I commit my spirit!” — and the centurion says: this man was innocent, and the crowd went away, people beating their breasts (a traditional sign of sorrow and penance).

John “Jesus had received the (vinegary) wine, and he said,  “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up  his spirit.

A better translation for this word is this:


John, verse 34: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once/ immediately there poured forth blood and water.”

Yesterday was your parish’s feast, the great day of the Annunciation. In the Eastern Churches, if Annunciation falls on Good Friday, we do not transfer the observance. Rather, we celebrate it in the morning, and then resume the Good Friday services in the afternoon and evening because the Incarnation is the pivotal event in human history. A Jewish friend of mine said to me, “if you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, then He is the door-hinge on which all history turns” and he was right.

The tradition in the East is that the date of the original Good Friday was on March 25. This is why we celebrate the Nativity on December 25, because it gives a perfect nine months for the pregnancy. It has nothing to do with Roman pagan feasts of the Saturnalia in December, but rather those feasts are precluded by the power of the incarnation. Jesus was conceived on March 25, dies on March 25.

It is worth noting here that in all the Eastern Churches that conception of Mary takes place on December 9, and her birth on September 8, an imperfect pregnancy. Only the Latin Church moved the feast of her immaculate conception to December 8 to make it a perfect pregnancy, which is not the ancient tradition at all. Only Jesus is perfect.

But let us proceed now with this last word, this last action.

Now – He breathes his last —- what does he breathe out? SPIRIT – the first breathing of the Holy Spirit to the church is this last sigh out of J’s exhausted lungs, to those standing below, to the beloved disciple, to the mother of the Lord, to the small faithful band of disciples.

Today is the end of Lent as it is reckoned in all the Eastern churches. Saturday is the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days, followed by Palm Sunday and then the unique week of Holy Week. In the Roman rite, Lent ends on Holy Wednesday, and then the Triduum stands alone, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil leading from the darkness of the tomb to the light of the resurrection.

INTO THY HANDS I commend my spirit shows us that Jesus knows that He was never never abandoned by God, despite the great loneliness He felt on the Cross earlier. There is a theology of abandonment that is popularly preached today in Protestant churches and among many Roman Catholics: that Jesus looks over the holy city, under the darkened sky, with the wind howling around him, and that he despaired.

That is NOT the tradition of the ancient Church, or of the Fathers. Rather, that Jesus spoke the opening words of the messianic psalm, a  psalm which indeed lists aspects of the passion itself, and ends w/ the messiah’s triumph, as we saw earlier.

Preachers take the opening verse and use it to say Jesus understands us in our abandonment, he felt abandoned on the Cross. No, he was abandoned when Judas kissed him and all in the garden when all fled; when Peter refused to acknowledge Him in the courtyard of the high priest and then Jesuslooked right at him and Peter went out to weep — but not to stand next to Jesus. And after Jesus said that verse from Psalm 22 on the Cross, the earth quaked, rocks split, and the inner curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom – by the hand of God the Father Who like His Jewish children tears his garments in grief – so did God at the pain of His Son, but the necessary pain which must be fulfilled and so God answered that prayer.

Jesus does not die as proxy for all men and women; Jesus does not die to appease an angry God nor is he the object of divine anger. He is the recapitulation, the anakephaliosis of the human nature which all share. Thus in Ps 22 it is the voice of fallen human nature, but not a cry of despair. With the tearing of the veil, Jesus’ sacrifice is accepted.

And here – Jesus does not feel abandoned whatsoever. He instead says two things – it is finished – into THY hands – the intimacy with the Father is still present – Now he bows his head – why? Out of exhaustion/ despair/ willing suffocation? NO, watch the motion! He gives of himself to those below, to his mother, St John, the other women, other witnesses in the crowd. His head goes in a downward direction: He breathes his last onto them.

  1. the centurion: a representative of the pagan empire, an official with responsibility, a battle-hardened veteran serving in a hostile country testifies that this is The Son of God. Plus he is acknowledging the illegal nature of the trial and the conduct of the Sanhedrin in the other statement: “this was an innocent man.”   From the mocking sign King of the Jews to The Son of God. Simon of Cyrene was converted, the bandit was converted, now the Roman official – in Lk 2, Simeon called the baby Jesus a light of revelation to the Gentiles – and now the revelations begins, with this lonely horrible death, in the words of this Roman official.
  2. the women = Luke has emphasized the women’s role in ministry to Jesus in life, and now in death – the weeping women, the women who witness all of this, and soon the women at the tomb. When the crowd goes, the women stay. They will accompany the body to the tomb; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb, as all Eastern Christians still do on Good Friday night, sitting in the dark churches, facing the tomb where an image of the Dead Christ lies, waiting for resurrection.

The blood and water: John sees it is a miracle. After all the suffering of Jesus, how could there be anything left in Him? It is not dribbling, it is not serum from the lungs. The spear tore thru the Body of Jesus, and likely pierced the pericardium of the heart, which is filled with water. But this is not about an anatomy lesson. It is about the Son of God giving in death, as foretold by the Prophets, from His wound that the icons always show in the right side, which fulfills Ezekiel and also shows us the brutality of that spear’s piercing through that sacred body to the sacred heart of Christ Himself.

Zechariah 14:8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem,

Ezekiel 47:1-2  water is coming forth from under the threshold of the temple eastward, for the front of the temple [is] eastward, and the water is coming down from beneath, from the right side, from the south of the altar.

The water is coming out of J’s right side: He is the new Temple.

In the First Letter of John we will read:

6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

Here, John says that that water and blood gush, pour out. In one of the legends, it says that the centurion Cornelius was blind in one eye but the pouring water hits that eye with force and he is cured. It gushes from that dead sacred body – a sign of fulfillment of running water; the  water equals Baptism; blood equals the Eucharist; his breathing of the spirit equals Chrismation /  Confirmation – the traditional order of the three sacraments of initiation still preserved in all Eastern Churches and in the rite for adult converts in the Roman Church.

He has brought everything to fulfillment, to completion – and now? Here? Now it is up to each of us, for whom he suffered willingly, out of love that we just are beginning to understand, he has given each soul since the crucifixion life – and we must complete our lives.

He gave everything in the end to the Father – the father now is the mother. Jesus compared God to a mother hen, longing to gather the chicks of doomed Jerusalem under her wings. Now he puts himself into the hands of the Father – gentle loving motherly hands which receive his soul and a loving father who kisses away the tears and soothes the exhaustion of the human Jesus.

So, to the completion of our lives. We must embrace the cross.

He was pierced for us. He pours out water and blood for us. He accepted all of this willingly, he entered the passion in full command of himself, and so in his death he is giving life. Jesus is the new human, the original human without sin. His innocent death is sacrificial and therefore saving. Death can not hold this human nature any longer, thus the resurrection. We are in Adam thru human nature but we are in Christ thru Baptism and thus share in this renewed human nature of Jesus.

When we come to the end of our own lives, may we have the faith and trust to say into the darkness: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And may we remember that Jesus, who suffered all this willingly, suffered it just for me – and so will be close at hand at that moment. Let us live as ones whose souls are loved passionately by God, and let us love others in fulfillment of the one commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples.

Let us give Him love, and not count the cost. Let us love others, and not count the cost. Let us work in the power of the Suffering and Risen Lord, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to transform this broken world into His Kingdom. Let us not flee from our cross, but embrace it, and realize with St Edith Stein before she was taken to Auschwitz: Ave Crux, spes unica! Hail O Cross, only hope!

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