The Seven Last Words of Jesus: The Seventh Word

And now the last of the last words. The seventh:
“Into your hands,” he said, “I commend my spirit.”

(Where does your spirit go? Who holds it?)

All this language is coded. It says what it says and it says so much more.

Into your hands I commend my spirit.

Jesus didn’t invent that, hanging there.
It is a prayer of his people.
It is a line from the thirty-first Psalm.

In You, O Lord, I seek refuge;
Do not let me ever be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me.

Incline your ear to me.
Rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
A strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress.
Take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
For you are my refuge.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit;
You have redeemed me, Faithful God.

These words are not resignation. He does not speak them and hang his head. They are fighting words. He uses his very last breath to make sure they are heard.

And with them he says to the powers that surround him, “I do not belong to you.” I do not belong to your violence and I do not belong to your fear.

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It’s what the artists said when they came together this week on the Ivory Coast, to film a music video in the place where a terrorist attack occurred two weeks ago. They wrote a new song, celebrating life and denouncing hatred. They danced and clapped and in a show of solidarity they held hands and sang together “you cannot make us hide.”

Like how Jesus speaks to God, but for us: says, Violence cannot claim our spirits and fear is no currency here.

It’s what the restaurant owner in New York City said when bombs had destroyed so much. He knew people would need to gather and he knew they would need to feel safe. When every other place had boarded up their doors, he threw his open, and made giant plates of pasta, and found a chair for anyone who could come, and played music that would be good for their souls. He hugged each person that arrived. When people called, because they heard the restaurant was open, they said, “Do we need a reservation?” and to everyone the owner said, “Just come.”

Like how Jesus speaks to God, but for us: says, Violence does not own us and fear will not hold us hostage.

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The crucifixion is horrific like any murder is horrific.

And it is unjust like any execution is unjust.

And it is heart-breaking like every loss is heart-breaking.

And this horror, this injustice, this heartbreak – it is ancient. And we have not yet unlearned it. It is our story every day.

(So where does your spirit go? Who holds it?)

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The one we mourn tonight said to the one who was with him always: Into your hands, I commend my spirit.

The words are offering, and they are reunion.

But they are also remembrance – these are the words his people have spoken for generations.

And they are reverence – these are the words with which he acknowledges that he is not his own.

And they are resistance – these are the last words, and with them, from the cross, he says, “This is not the last word.”

My Son, Your Son

I wrote this for our Good Friday service last year. But I’m reminded of it now as the jury in Florida hears the case surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, and thought I’d share it.

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My son, your son.

That’s what I kept thinking…

At the CROP Walk in Kansas City last fall, when I brought my young son, still in a sling. And I had planned to carry him that way the few miles, figuring he’d be lulled to sleep by the steady movement, the warm air, the closeness of our bodies. But I didn’t get to, because he became, very quickly that afternoon, not my child. I just watched, from a few steps back, as the youth of this church paraded him down the path, or slung him over their shoulders, or cradled him in their arms as they walked, each one talking a turn. He was as happy as he could be. My arms were empty, my sling light, my heart full.

My son, your son.

That’s what they’ve been saying. My son, your son…

At the vigils for Trayvon Martin, the seventeen-year-old in Florida who was killed last month, family members and friends and strangers, in Los Angeles and London, and in between and beyond, have been claiming him as their own. They have been donning hoodies and buying Skittles. They have been standing in solidarity with his mother and father, crying their outrage, marching their grief. They have been telling the story of his life, mourning the story of his death, mourning all those deaths that come from our own hands, our own violence.

My son, your son.

That’s what Mary heard…

Some two thousand years ago, when she was a young woman, she was woken up, must have thought she was still dreaming, rubbed her eyes and this angelic figure stood before her, told her not to be afraid… and said to her, “This is what God says: My son, your son.” She listened, and then she remembered the promises of God, to rescue all people, and she sang her thanks for this incredible moment, and she said back to God, “My son, your son.”

And so there was this tension, always – to whom do you belong? One day he’s twelve, in a temple, arguing with the teachers. His parents haven’t seen him for days. When they find him, he tells his father – didn’t you know I would be my in father’s house? God says to Joseph – parent to parent – “My son, your son.”

And that boy grew, and came to a river one day to be baptized. And when he came out of the water, God said, “My son.” And the scripture of our tradition tells the other half, tells that God loved the world so much, God gave Jesus, and said to the world, “Your son.”

And then the son started talking. Saying, “Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned. Make time and space for the ones cast out. Make room in your hearts for the ones you want to hate.”

He said, “My son, your son.” He said, “Them, me.”

We call him Teacher, and Lord. We call him Savior, Brother, Friend. Ours. Our Teacher, Our Brother, Our Friend. We do not call him Our Son. Child of God, but not our child. Son of Humanity, but not my son. Not your son.

What would that mean? To say that in Jesus, God becomes not just a child but our child… That this part of the story, this most intimate part, is not an abstraction. This vulnerability is in our hands. We sing about Jesus as our Lord, and celebrate him as our teacher, and shy away from claiming him as our son… Why do we do that?

I don’t know, but maybe it has something to do with this day. Maybe it’s because we know that the story comes to this. It doesn’t end here, but it does come to this. Mary is warned that her heart will be pierced with sorrow. If we are warned about the sorrows that our loving could end in, do we still risk that love?

From the depths of his sorrow, the son says it one more time. When only those who have risked the most remain – his mother, and his best friend – he offers them to each other. He tells his mother – “I have loved this friend like I would a child – with my whole heart. Take him as your own.” And he tells his friend, “My mother has loved me as high and as deep, as wide and as long as love is. She has you now; care for her.” He says, “I am trusting you with each other. If you love me, love one another.” He says, “Son, this is your mother. Mother, this is your son.”

He says it because he knows that they will need each other. He knows that sorrow has pierced their hearts. He knows that the risk of real love is that sorrow, knows that the only way through it is to claim each other.

And if we say that this is our story, too, then we are bound up in the exchange. The disciple’s friend is Mary’s friend is our friend. God’s son is Mary’s son is our son.

Long ago a preacher said of Good Friday, “This is the day we console God.”

I don’t know what that might look like. I cannot imagine the sorrow. I know that some of you can. I don’t know, except to say that maybe we call on those promises that were spoken so long ago, that assure us that we belong to God, and that God is faithful, God is with us. And maybe we hold one another and we say to God, “Your son, our son.”

Or, better, “All your children, all our children.”

We remember them, and in their memory, and so that more might live, we love one another.