Thursday, April 13, 2017

Famous Last Words: Holy Tuesday "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"

Famous Last Words. Tuesday

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit When he had said this, he breathed his last.The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Our journey through Christ’s last words is one that draws us into conversation with Him, and encourages us to do business with ourselves. We can place ourselves in the crowd, imagine the impact of those words on the bystanders who heard them first. We can wonder how we might have heard them then, what feelings they would have evoked.

And then we can lift those words up and carry them away to look at them more closely, allowing a new light to fall…These are messages from someone whom we love, which are given to us to reflect on here and now, to remember as we journey on, following His footsteps as best we can.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

 Words we sing as part of this very office of Compline, words that speak to us of a laying down, of endings, of the final departure of the passing soul...perhaps we bow our heads and keep silence for a moment in the face of the enormity of the death of God
Only in extremis could we ever imagine letting go so completely of the very essence of ourselves.

Giving up our spirit.

In this age of self-fulfillment it’s almost unthinkable.

“Into your hands”

Letting go of our inmost being…

Isn’t it just too much to ask?

If I give up my spirit, who am I? What have I left?

Of course, it’s easier for Jesus.

Jesus, who told us to call God “Father”…whose relationship with God was one of unbroken love and trust, of complete unity placing himself with complete confidence in the everlasting arms.
In some ways he is handing himself over TO himself
He has known throughout his life and his ministry that he is God’s beloved Son…that he and the Father are One, that in his death and resurrection the Father will be glorified.
Such trust must have seemed woefully misplaced to those passing by in the chilling noontide dark to witness his agony, but even Jesus somehow holds on to the knowledge that his spirit is uniquely precious and beloved, and will be received with joy.

Father, into your hands…

Safe hands, then,  at least for Jesus…but for us? Could we pray this, perhaps, as a last resort. The King James version says that after these words Jesus “gave up the ghost”…a phrase that, for us, is apparently redolent of defeat and despair. We don’t like giving up anything, really.

But surely we are wrong

“Father, into your hands”…

What was true for Jesus is true for you and me

Those comforts (gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, conferring strength) that were part of Jesus’s own experience are available for us too.

Each of us is uniquely precious…God’s beloved child in whom he is well pleased.

Each of us will be received with joy.

Each of us has been touched by God’s breath, the Spirit, and our true being comes directly as gift from him, so that this act of handing over is simply returning responsibility to the only one who is ultimately able to sustain it.

Father, into your hands

So here is an invitation for us.

An invitation to give up the self-consciousness that seems to be an irrepressible part of being human, so that “into your hands” becomes not an end but a beginning.

An invitation to pray this prayer every day – and ask for God’s help to mean it.

It is a prayer to mark not just the transition from earthly to eternal life, nor even the ending of the day as we step out of consciousness and lay the burdens of wakefulness aside.

It is, rather, a way of marking, welcoming, and hallowing our real life with God, a way of ensuring that we remember, as Moses did so long ago
“All things come from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you”.
So this prayer of Christ’s from the cross can be the one with which we start each day. It is both a protection from the worst of ourselves (for if we are serious in our prayer, giving God free-rein over what makes us US, then we can expect that God will be equally serious in bringing about our transformation)… and a recognition that we can do little or nothing without God. Though we may struggle to learn it, to consciously place ourselves and our enterprises in God’s hands daily, to let go of our anxieties and entrust ourselves to him unreservedly at each and every moment, is indeed the route to life in all its fulness.

During Lent, some of us in the Cathedral have been reading Rowan Williams book Being Disciples together, and I was taken by his suggestion that holiness is that state in which someone is so intent on God, and on God’s presence in other people, that they become utterly un-self-conscious, lost in wonder, love and praise.

By this light the saints are those who can pray “Into your hands” and mean it...who are prepared to trust themselves completely to God, knowing that with him, to lose your life is to gain it.

Through God’s grace may this be true for us all

Father of mercies and God of love In his last hour your Son, our Saviour, committed his spirit into your hands.
Help us to do the same
To know that in your hands we are held secure
That there is no safer place to be.
So father receive us now, as we commit ourselves into your hands
Our souls and bodies
In life and in death
For time and for eternity
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen




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