agnus dei

Seven Last Words: Reunion

By Rev. Jacob Smith

“Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

Our sermon text for this Good Friday is the 7th word spoken from the cross which comes from Luke 23:46, where Jesus says in a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”\

One of the profound realities that we learn from the cross is that Christianity, contrary to any other belief system, is actually extremely counterintuitive.  It is as my former colleague the Rev. Nancy Hanna use to say, “Christianity is ‘Flip-flop Sense.”’ For example Good is Associated with the darkest Friday in human history, the cross a brutal instrument of execution is now a symbol of life and peace. In order to truly live one must first die. This is “Flip-Flop Sense.”

Unfortunately most people think that their natural understandings of religion is one in the same as Christianity, because sometimes our natural religion can take on the trappings of Christianity, and that is a misunderstanding. Natural religion is primarily about giving us guidelines and control in order to have a happy and fulfilled life. God is typically my co-pilot because I am the one in driving, in charge of my destiny (to quote St. Oprah).  

The recently canceled HBO show Enlightened starring Laura Dern articulates this religion beautifully.  Dern plays a self-destructive executive, who, after the implosion of her professional life, has a philosophical/spiritual awakening in rehab. The show is all about her trying to get her life back together. How she does this is by natural religion. She takes control, holds life tightly, and makes sure everything is balanced so that she might define the inevitable outcome.

However as she takes on more control, her life and the lives of those around her become more turbulent and frantic. Most of us can relate to this experience either through life or familiar relationships. Often times our need to be in control is simply evidence that we are not in control. Our need to hold on tightly to a relationship is evidence that it is slipping through our hands. The need for an inevitable outcome is a testimony to our lack of faith.

This is the historical backdrop to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. An unjust move by the temple authorities to maintain their control of the religion. An unwarranted power play on the act of the Romans in order to control the inevitable outcome. And nobody thought they were doing any thing wrong. 

As the great reformer Martin Luther said, “You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. Therefore when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work.  When you behold his crown of throns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts.”

What [Good Friday] powerfully and dramatically exposes is that our need to be in control…

This is my first point: What today powerfully and dramatically exposes is that our need to be in control, our need to hold on to things tightly, when our spirits are in our hands this leads to chaos and death.  It leads to the cross and there it meets its end. 

The flip/flop sense of Christianity and why it is not our natural religion is that it says you think you are control, but your not. Jesus the only person who was ever in total control has subjected himself to the tyranny of the crowd.  He has relinquished all control which reaches its apex in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus from the cross quotes Psalm 31, a psalm prayed by children, interestingly those who are most often acutely in touch with their lack of any control. 

Jesus from the cross cries out Psalm 31 but adds father to it.  “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” He doesn’t relinquish his spirit into the great nothingness, he doesn’t relinquish his Spirit to Karma, but he relinquishes his Spirit into the hands of something intimate, His Father.  This is the cry of a Holy Life; this is the cry of a sanctified life. This is the definition of the flip-flop sense of Christianity, the relinquishing control in order to have true life. 

The answer to life’s fulfillment is not found in holding on tighter but relinquishing all control…

This is my second point:  What Good Friday and the cross teach us is that a truly Holy Life, is not in control, but has given up. The answer to life’s fulfillment is not found in holding on tighter but relinquishing all control so that God-and not just some cosmic sky fairy-but God our heavenly Father can act.         

Our need to be in control is often times deeply related to who we desire to actually be, someone else.  Microsoft use to have these amazing commercials: where an average looking person would say, “One day I had this amazing idea for my computer.” And it would show who the person thought they actually were in their memory and the person was always more attractive in their head than who they actually were.”

Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish Catholic priest who was imprisoned during WW II in Aushwitz, for providing refuge to people in his church.  During his time in Aushwitz three prisoners had escaped. For punishment the head of the guard sentenced 10 of the prisoners to death by starvation. One of the condemned, Francizek Gajowinczek began to weep saying my wife, My children! I will never see them again. And in that moment Kolbe stepped in and willingly took his place.

Gajonwinzek was a condemned man, he had no control, he had no plans, he had nothing and this ultimately is us in life.  We are on our own condemned and no plan or amount of control or holding on tightly will be able to save us. What we need is a substitute a savior. 

Gajonwinczek later said, “I could only thank him with my eyes. I wanted to do something, I was stunned. The immensity of it I the condemned will live because someone else willingly and voluntarily offered his life for me. Is this some sort of dream.

Let me proclaim to you this Good Friday that this is not a dream, but this is a reality-this is the Flip flop sense of Christianity, this is how God acts. In Jesus relinquishing his spirit he solves the world’s control issues.  The innocent dies for the guilty and there is nothing you can do about it.  He dies in order to for you to be reconciled to you and in order for you to be reconciled to God.  We need a substitute. We have got to have an absolutely innocent person take our stead.  And in Christ Jesus we have it. The only way to achieve hopeful living is to relinquish all attempts at control.  

This is my third point:  Who here doesn’t long to hold onto life lightly, but because of sin and circumstance we find ourselves holding onto it tightly.  But God, through this act of the cross, as our substitute, covers our tightly clenched hands and our lives with his atoning blood. And he gently pries our hands open so that we in this life might relinquish control, and commend our souls into the hands of our merciful father.