SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST – FORSAKEN AND THIRST

INTRO: Looking at the Words of Jesus: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15: 34) and ‘I thirst!’ (John 19: 28). Jesus is approaching the pinnacle of his agony. The previous words – about forgiveness, about the promise of Paradise and Redemption, about community and care (to Mary and John) where centred on others. But these Words are about himself. The darkness is closing in, and life is ebbing away. Loneliness and terrifying need overwhelm him as the torture of death by crucifixion wreaks havoc upon his body. 

[1]      A word about this form of execution employed by the Roman Empire.  For the Empire, there were two kinds of people: Roman Citizens who had status and rights; slaves and non-Romans who had none, except their usefulness to the Empire. Romans were to be executed cleanly and quickly (usually beheading – like St Paul) – the others, especially slaves and rebels by slow, tortuous agony and public humiliation by hanging on a cross utterly stripped naked in full view of crowds and passers-by. Usually the victim would be hanging there in agony for up to three days. And essentially, because as they weakened their lungs could not function because they no longer had the strength to use their diaphragm. So their lungs would fill with fluid and in effect they would drown in their own fluids. That is why when the soldier pierced the side of Christ with the spear, blood and water spurted out – as the spear penetrated the lung and heart of Christ (John 19: 33-35)

[2]     ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15: 34) These words are recorded only by Mark – and it is typical of Mark’s portrayal of Jesus in his Gospel. It isa  very human Jesus he reveals to us, and often the emotions of Jesus are expressed. Also he emphasises questions without answers! The darkness of faith struggling to make sense of reality around us. Wrestling with our ‘unbelief’! For Mark there is no great breakthrough of faith and the original end of mark’s Gospel is no glorious revelation of the Risen Christ, no ‘appearance’,  but an empty tomb and all the questions and perplexity of the apostles. Even the women who had seen the emptiness and heard ‘the young man in white robes’ ((Mark 16: 5-7) were afraid to go and give the message of Resurrection to the apostles. The triumphal final verses of Mark (16: 9-20) are an addition by another unknown NT writer.

[3]     So Jesus experiences the darkness of faith, the utter absence of God (the very substance and meaning of his life, his humanity). His cry (using the opening verse of Psalm 21 – Hebr 22) expresses his entering and experiencing the depths of human despair.  Despair is so much greater than extreme sadness or loneliness – it is to enter total darkness, void and emptiness, the loss of meaning and hope. The fathers of the Church had an expression – ‘what Jesus has not shared, he has not redeemed’. The devastating words hold for me a strange hope – indeed the the most hope-filled and healing of all the words of Jesus – because it means that his (and God’s) infinite love has gone into the depths of human devastation and shared it, been one with us. This is the real ‘descent into hell’ that the Apostle’s Creed speaks of. The hell of unremitting never ending emptiness and darkness, the total vacuum of meaning and purpose … the end! Jesus in these words is truly the Immanuel – the God with us – to the very depths! There is nowhere that God is not present, and most especially in the human experience of His absence! So Jesus not only shares all physical suffering, being one with the victims of torture, one with those who experience the destruction of their human dignity in forms of slavery both past and present. He enters also the place of despair that drives so many tragically to suicide. He is not only the Universal Brother – He is the Universal Victim! And His Resurrection is Universal Victory and Healing! The Good Friday Psalm that begins with despair journeys through the suffering to praise, healing and new Life. It is the Passover Psalm, tracing the passage from death to life, darkness to light, despair to hope!

[4] Turning now to the next Word from the Cross – ‘I thirst’ (John 19: 28). As Jesus lungs fill with fluid, the rest of his body dehydrates. (Sadly this sounds too contemporary as we hear of the agony of those enduring severe symptoms of the Covid-19 virus). Again the very human Jesus cries out his need! He thirsts for water, as did the Hebrew slaves newly liberated from their slavery and still journeying to a land of freedom – and Moses struck the rock at Massah in the desert with his staff (how often was Jesus struck by the rods and whips of his executioners on his journey to Calvary and our freedom!). And the soldier pierced his side and water of Life flowed out onto the wilderness of Calvary Hill and transformed the desert of a world empty of love!

[5]     But what was Jesus real thirst? – As with the Samaritan Woman at the well, his thirst was for our love, our healing, our freedom. His thirst is for us to find ourselves made new in his heart broken open in love. His thirst is for a new world where all can drink clean water and find health; where all can drink of human dignity, of caring community, drink of justice, drink in the peace that will end war, drink in life that brings our lusts for death and death-bearing to an end. He thirsts for us to work with him in the power of His Spirit  – water of Life from from his broken heart – in ‘recreating the face of the Earth’.

WILL WE SHARE HIS THIRST – DRINK FROM THE WATERS OF LIFE FLOWING FROM HIS HEART?  COME DRINK! WILL WE SHARE HIS SACRIFICIAL LOVE AND POUR OUT OUR LIVES – LIKE HE DOES – FOR A NEW WORLD TO BE BORN IN THE WATERS OF THE SPIRIT’S LOVE FLOWING THROUGH US, FROM US IN CHRIST JESUS?

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