The Seventh Word: 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit'

Holy Week 2011 Daily Reflection on the Last Words of Christ

Luke 23. 44-46

44Around noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until the middle of the afternoon.

45The sun stopped shining, and the curtain in the temple split down the middle.

46Jesus shouted, "Father, I put myself in your hands!" Then he died.

We are at death now. Jesus, racked by pain, drenched in sweat, drained of blood, dies. The light of the world is now surrounded by darkness. The Word which was from the beginning, through whom all things are created, passes into nothingness. But this Seventh Last Word offers a final gift: all is given over to God, the one and only hope: ‘Father, I put myself into your hands,’ ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’

How is this a gift in the face of death? The gift can seem difficult to see. The scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, now at its apparent end, reminds me of Billie Holliday’s song, ‘ Strange Fruit’. That song laments the lynching of African Americans. It begins in the following way:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Holliday made this song a regular part of her repertoire. She would sing it last, the waiters would stop serving; a single light shone on her face, and there would be no encore. There is no gift in the song, only brutal, final, violent death.

The African Americans were denied a voice. No last words for them were recorded. Jesus speaks for them as well as for himself in this, his final word. He does not condemn the world. He does not seek revenge, a perpetual cycle of violence. He addresses God directly and gives Him everything. ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit.’ It is a revolutionary attitude, not built on anger but on the determined purpose of God’s peace. The Word which was from the beginning, the light of the world, delves back into chaos and darkness in order to invite God’s recreation of the world.

The invitation is tender: ‘Father’, Jesus says once again, ‘Abba’. The invitation is personal: ‘I put myself in your hands’. In the primordial Garden of Eden, Adam hid from God and put himself into his own hands by the eating of forbidden fruit. Adam rejects the Father and chooses himself, to the destruction of the world. Now, at the destruction of his world, the Second Adam, Jesus, chooses God and offers everything to the Father’s care. He does so as much for us all as for himself. Just as Adam’s choice affects us all, just as much as we have a share in Adam’s choice to choose self over God, so too do we share in Jesus’ reversal, the placing of self into the heart and care of God. This is a strange fruit, a wonderful gift, indeed.

We have spent many hours at the Cross of Jesus these past few days. Now we hear that “then he died.” We know, unlike those early followers, that this death is not the end. The flowering of Jesus’ strange fruit is to come. We eat of that fruit in every eucharist, in every prayer, in every gathering. If we listen, we can hear the Father’s response to Jesus’ Seventh Word. All of our making, all of our work, all of our life and death, are in the Father’s hands. We can pray, along with our Crucified and Risen Lord, “Father, I put everything into your hands.” Amen.