Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (7)

In Luke’s gospel, the final words Jesus says are a prayer:

44 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Father into your hands I entrust my spirit

“Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit!”

In the bible the word “spirit” is sometimes closely associated with “breath.”  It is Creator God who breathes life into the first human by giving Adam life. It is the Holy Spirit who gave Jesus earthly life in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit was revealed in a form of a dove when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and began his ministry.

And now, Jesus is breathing his last human-life breath. Luke tells us that Jesus’ last words were a prayer: “Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit.” Luke says with those words, Jesus breathes his last breath.

Jesus’ mission is over–he no longer has any control over what will happen with the future (in the earthly, human sense). What does he do? Prays. And in praying, gives us a prayer that is also good for us to say:

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

I have found this to be a good prayer, especially when I am worried or confused. I have discovered I can repeat it, slowly, in time with my breathing (sort of), in the middle of the night. It helps me to “let go” of things. I’m thinking it might also make a good prayer when one is being wheeled into surgery.

God is in charge. God has plans that are far better than what I can imagine. Jesus “lets go” of his spirit, his control, and God brings about something better than anyone could have imagined (as we will celebrate on Easter).

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

Until next time, Amen!

Things Jesus Said. . . and meant (5)

The gospel of John tells us while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he suddenly cried out in a loud voice, “I thirst!”

42 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--I thirst

Pondering these words of Jesus, I think of layers of meaning. In a literal way, Jesus is losing fluids at a tremendous rate on the cross (to put it mildly). The life force is literally draining out of his human body. In this sense, it is natural that he is thirsty. So some view the bible verse this way.

I also think of the rich symbolic imagery in John’s gospel. This is the writer who tells us  the story of Jesus being tired and hungry after all his ministry work, sitting down at a well, and asking the Samaritan woman to give him a drink. In their conversation, Jesus says he could give her living water (water that is like a stream, clean and  moving, inner “water” of the Holy Spirit).

While Jesus is talking with the woman, the disciples have gone off to get food in the village–and when they return, Jesus is no longer hungry (or thirsty) and tells them that his food is to do the will of God. (John 4)

It also in John’s gospel we hear Jesus cry out to a great crowd:

Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,
“Rivers of flowing water will flow from his heart.” *
 By this he meant the Spirit,
whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Up to that time the Spirit had not been given,
since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  
(John 7:37-38) 

dscn6176--I thirst image from asinglgedropintheocean 3-17-2014Throughout the centuries, Christians have found the words “I thirst” to have deep meaning. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had the words written near the crucifixes in her convents. The words “I thirst” reminded her of many things: the way Jesus thirsts for others to come to him, the way Jesus thirsted in his sufferings in life and dying, the way her beloved poor people hungered and thirst, both in the literal sense and in the way people all over the world, including “the rich” thirst for love. 

Jesus thirsts to be close to us, to commune with us in the deep spiritual relationship of God’s love–even from the cross he thought of you and me. He was longing to bring about the reconciliation of heaven and earth, God and earthling.

And that is food and drink for further thought as we continue our journey through Holy Week.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

*  For example, see Isaiah 12:3.
** Read more about Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” image, with thanks to “A Drop In the Ocean” website: http://asingledropintheocean.com/2014/03/17/my-week-serving-the-poor-of-st-louis-with-the-missionaries-of-charity-mother-teresa/

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (4)

During Holy Week, I’m continuing to ponder the seven last words of Jesus. These seven words spoken on the cross are gathered from the four gospels. Today’s words are found in both the gospels of Matthew and Mark:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

41 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Why abandonment (click on image to enlarge)

As others have pointed out, this one sentence is the only thing Matthew and Mark write about concerning what Jesus said while dying on the cross. I think this is significant in that these gospel writers viewed Jesus as being utterly forsaken by all while being crucified. Even God, Jesus’ Father, seems to have let him down.

Biblical scholars say that Jesus may have been attempting to pray Psalm 22, which begins like this:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why so far from my call for help,
    from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
    by night, but I have no relief. 

In Matthew and Mark, all those passing by the cross on their way are mocking Jesus, including the chief priests, the scribes, and elders. “He saved others, yet he is powerless to save himself!” “He said he was God’s Son–let’s see him prove it! Come down off that cross, Jesus, if you are really the Son of God!” The criminals being crucified taunt Jesus. (No “good thief” here!)  Even Jesus’ followers–mostly women followers, it seems–are standing in the distance, unwilling or unable to come close to Jesus as he is suffering.

Although the rest of Psalm 22 does not appear in Matthew and Mark, I think it likely that the earliest readers would have recalled the rest of the psalm, including these words:

In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted and you rescued them.
 To you they cried out and they escaped;
    in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
 But I am a worm, not a man,
    scorned by men, despised by the people.
 All who see me mock me;
    they curl their lips and jeer;
    they shake their heads at me:
 “He relied on the Lord—let him deliver him;
    if he loves him, let him rescue him.” 

Cross in dry desert --Julie McCartyI cannot help but be amazed at how Psalm 22–written so very long before the life of Christ–describes the experience Jesus finds himself in while dying on the cross.

Jesus does not recite the entire psalm–he is too filled with pain, and besides, crucifixion steals the breath away by slowly suffocating people.

But Matthew and Mark clearly want us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 22. Jesus feels totally forsaken, totally abandoned by all as he is dying.

And yet… there is more.

Even though Jesus felt abandoned by God, it is God who will ultimately save him. Later in the text, Psalm 22 turns from the message of abandonment and alienation to one of hope in God:

You who fear the Lord, give praise!
    All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
    show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained
    the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
    but heard me when I cried out.
 I will offer praise in the great assembly;
    my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
 The poor will eat their fill;
    those who seek the Lord will offer praise.
   ” May your hearts enjoy life forever!” 

“May your hearts enjoy life forever!”  Although Jesus cannot feel this during his death and descent into Sheol, the ultimate long-term gift of God will be life forever. 

The next time you or I feel hurt, forsaken, or abandoned by someone, we can be assured that Jesus knows the feeling–from his own experience.

Until next time, Amen! 

[P.S. Read all of Psalm 22 on Bible Gateway, along with footnotes: click here. Thanks to Bible Gateway for quotes in this text.]

Good Friday–Remembering Christ’s immense love

Christians observe Good Friday today.

I find myself pondering what tremendous love God has for each one of us, and all of us together, one gigantic family of humanity.

Candles--palm--Were you there--Julie McCarty

Whether your life is full of joy now or weighed down with sadness, grief, or loneliness, I totally believe that God loves you, just as you are. God’s compassion and mercy is held out, as a gift, to all of humanity, to every single human, and that includes YOU.

You and I may not “feel” this love at all times (it’s only natural!). However, that love radiates out to us, nonetheless.  If I care about you so much, I totally believe that God cares about you much, much more… immensely, infinitely more!

My words are few today.  What can I say when all falls silent, hushed before the immense beauty and mystery of God’s love for you, for me, for all of us?

Until next time, Amen!

 

Lenten reflection: Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

I haven’t had the opportunity to blog as often lately, but I thought some of you might like to revisit a reflection I wrote three years ago about Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion.” I really enjoy Chagall’s unique style, and the “White Crucifixion” is  an amazing work of art –and good for Christians to ponder as we draw closer to the special time of Holy Week.

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways: this post was brought back into my awareness when Pope Francis said “White Crucifixion” is his favorite work of art

White Crucifixion--oil painting by Marc Chagall, 1938
White Crucifixion–oil painting by Marc Chagall, 1938

 

I have found that reflecting on the “White Crucifixion” is a kind of visio divina— that is, a prayerful meditation on a work of art. It brings my mind and heart into the realm of paying attention to God. To read that post, visit April 2011 on this blog.

May the good Lord bless you with awareness of his loving presence in your life in the days ahead. . .

Until next time, Amen!

P. S.  If you enjoy this blog, look for “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” on Facebook. 

 

 

 

 

Holy Week: Meditating on Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

White Crucifixion–1938 oil painting by Marc Chagall (click on picture to enlarge)   (more details at end of post) 

 

 As you probably know, this week is the celebration of Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week. Because of this, I wanted to do something special, so I hunted online for a work of art to use for visio divina (meditating with art, see Feb. 24, 2011 post). As a Christian, I was looking for an image of Christ on the cross, and ended up being drawn to a 20th century painting called White Crucifixion by the famous Russian and Jewish artist Marc Chagall.

People have highly individualized reactions to art and I want to state up front that this post is not a historic analysis, an art critic’s review, or even a theological examination of the White Crucifixion. This post is simply my own personal feelings, thoughts, and prayer reactions after spending several days pondering the work. I respect that there are many ways to view the White Crucifixion, and I believe the artist himself would be the first to acknowledge that.

Many of Chagall’s paintings could be described as lively, romantic, humorous, imaginative, and filled with brilliant colors, but the White Crucifixion is largely drained of color. Chagall painted it in 1938 while living in Paris, in response to the horrifying events of Kristallnacht,  the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues throughout Germany were systematically vandalized or destroyed, and thousands of Jewish men were carted off to concentration camps.

In White Crucifixion, Chagall arranges various scenes of this Jewish suffering around the crucifix, much like an altar screen adorned with biblical scenes around the perimeter. In the upper left, Russian soldiers turn Jewish homes upside down and set them ablaze. In the upper right, Nazi soldiers throw sacred objects from a burning synagogue out into the streets.

Below, a Jewish man is fleeing with a bag of belongings on his back, while another stands ready to sprint away, the sacred Torah firmly clasped in his arms. A woman holds her child in a protective stance; an old bearded man stands with a sign around his neck, his hands open, as if to ask “Why?”; refugees on an overloaded boat look as if about to die of hunger; a sacred scroll in the lower left corner is rolling on the ground, about to disappear from our sight; and the ghosts of Jewish rabbis and ancestors float above the scene, some covering their eyes or looking away—the sight is too horrendous to behold.

In the middle of all this, a Jewish man hangs on a cross, his only clothes a simple head covering and a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl, to hide his nakedness. The words above him identify him as “King of the Jews.” With his hands and feet nailed to the cross he cannot move to stop the chaos and suffering all around him. He, too, suffers with all those others suffering. He bows his head in silence, as if in prayer or mourning. A light shines from above, while silent candles (a menorah turned sideways?) hold vigil at the base of the cross.

If the picture makes you feel uncomfortable, as it did me, I suggest you stay with that feeling for awhile. I did. I pondered the many evil things people have done, supposedly in the name of Christianity or other religions. I thought of all the times we think of Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired little baby in a manger and how wrong it is that so often Christians have stripped Jesus of his Jewish heritage—and, much worse, committed heinous crimes against his younger, modern-day nieces and nephews.

The White Crucifixion reminds me that the observance of Good Friday ought not only to be about remembering the sacrifice of Christ, but also of the suffering that is going on all around the world today. Even as you read this, someone somewhere is being tortured, unjustly imprisoned, raped, kidnapped, enslaved, or murdered. Do we pray for these unseen, silent victims?

This Good Friday, let those of us who dare to call ourselves Christians take a good hard look at how we treat people who are seemingly “different.” Let us meditate long on the words Jesus said: “. . . love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . .” (Luke 6:27) May we respect life in all its forms, treating every human with the same dignity we would treat Christ.  After all, it was Jesus who said [in the words of the song based on Matt. 25:40], “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

 

 

Notes:  Image of the painting above was copied from Wikipedia under the creative commons agreement. To view a larger image, visit the Art Institute of Chicago website, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/59426.

Other resources consulted: Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World by Benjamin Harshav (Rizzoli); Chagall by Jacob Baal-Teshuva (Taschen); and Marc Chagall by Jonathon Wilson (Nextbook-Schoken).