Have you ever heard of a Seven Last Words Good Friday Service? Our church has held one for the past two years. During the service, seven people give a short reflection on one of the seven things Jesus said from the cross. This year I was asked to participate, and I was the final speaker, so I got to close the service. I was so nervous I could barely breathe, but I did it! I shared my heart with people, and I survived. I thought I would share my reflection with you. It’s meant to be spoken, so it uses some speaking conventions that sound odd in print, but… Well. You make your own judgments. I hope this speaks to you.
Into Your Hands…
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. Luke 23:44-46
This isn’t how it was supposed to end.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and look again, but his chest isn’t moving. He put his spirit in your hands, Lord. I heard him say the words, but they can’t mean the end. When David the king called the same words, asking for deliverance, you delivered him. Wasn’t this man more than David? Why couldn’t your hands restore him? His hands restored sight and life and hearing. His hands broke a few loaves into a feast for thousands. His hands made demons flee. Are your hands any less?
A guard passes, ready to go home, and I flinch as he pierces this man, this man I love, this dead man, and blood and water flow. It’s over, I see that, but this isn’t how it was supposed to end.
He said God was his father, he the beloved, obedient son. He was the servant, the shepherd, the one we waited for. That had to be true. All of creation knew it was true. The wind knew it was true, as did the waves. The bread knew it was true as it split over and over and fed a multitude. The fig tree knew it was true and withered under his gaze.
The demons knew it was true, shrieking in fear when he approached. The mothers knew it was true when they pushed past us and asked him to dandle their babies on his knee and speak blessings over their tiny lives.
Because it was true, this isn’t how it was supposed to end. If he could turn over tables in the temple, his eyes dark with anger, and thwart haughty leaders at every turn, why couldn’t he have stopped this? Who was this man to give his last breath to the God who was supposed to love him, the God he called Father?
The God who was supposed to save us through him.
He had barely started, but now it’s over, and I don’t know what to do.
Except… It isn’t over. Signs everywhere say he was here, that what we knew was real. Behind me a man holds one sister in each arm and weeps. I saw that man take his first breath in four days, and he breathes still, even if that breath hitches in sorrow at the sight before us.
To my right a man born blind is on his knees, weeping into his hands, having just seen the darkest day of his life. I wonder if he laments having vision, if this sight is more than his brand-new eyes can bear.
He showed us God, put the leaders in their place, explained the Law, washed our feet, slept in our boats, loved us to the end, left bits of himself and his love all over Judea, and now…
This isn’t how it was supposed to end.
Years down the road, I, Jill, echo the same thoughts. When blood and water flow from my dreams, those words come first. I say them as I drop a rose on the grave of one gone too soon. I say them as a child I love turns from her family, her home, her faith, to pursue life on her own. I say them when the diagnosis is bad and the budget needs to stretch and the car turns over for the last time.
I say the words when being in your hands feels dangerous and lonely, when what I love, what I think I need takes its last breath and restoration isn’t on the horizon.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.
Back to the shadows
My words echo back to the shadows, where the last breath was given, where he fell into the hands of the Father he loved. Those he called followed and watched and learned, walked miles and miles in circles, dreaming of the future, of victory and a new world and ancient promises come to pass. But now…
They grieved because they saw the dark and forgot about the dawn. They forgot the promise that until the end, every dark night is followed by the dawn. And after the end, there are no more dark nights and only the dawn. It all, in any direction, leads to the dawn.
Three days. Those who wept on the hill, who saw the final breath, who stumbled home numb and afraid, would wait three days in the dark. The lowest depths of sorrow were about to give way to the highest heights of joy. Truth would never be clearer. Patience would never know a greater reward. The hearts of men on the road were about to burn as the mystery of the ages was explained by a voice of compassion, a voice they knew, a voice they thought never to hear again.
They didn’t know the plan, and their eyes were closed until the third day’s dawn, when the light came over the horizon and the ancient shadows were banished in a glorious, eternal glow.
Whether they remembered or not, whether they believed or not, the rabbi was safe in his father’s hands, waiting for the final act, waiting with clouds and angels until it truly begins.
Waiting for the dawn.
Here, now, I know the plan. I know the end. I know that dawn comes in days, that the old becomes the new.
And yet I echo the words of the lost. I admit I speak them more than I ought, the heartfelt cry that this isn’t how it’s supposed to end.
When those words escape my heart, Lord, remind me again, as you remind me every time, that dawn is only days away, that my soul is safe in your hands, that the plan is good.
Remind me that what the wind knew, and the bread knew, and the mothers knew, and the demons knew, and the disciples knew, takes wing with the morning.
And with that morning, with that dawn, all things are new. Because this is, from the beginning of time to the end of the age, exactly how it had to end.