It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said: “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. Luke 23:44-48 Mary Queen of Scots died with the words “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” on her lips, and indeed there must be many throughout history who also did so, taking their cue from the last words of Our Lord. The Church prays these words every night in the office of Compline, adjoining the phrase “You have redeemed us, Lord God of truth,” and at Easter time, this seems a good place to start our meditation on this last word from the Cross.
Having passed through the desert of Lent, with its successes and failures, we finally accompanied our Lord through his Passion, sharing in the remembrance of the Last Supper and his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
On Good Friday, we listened to St John’s account of our Lord’s death and burial, and no doubt were moved once more, as always on this day. We kissed the feet of the crucified one in an act of our own sorrow, and tasted the fruit of redemption in our reception of Holy Communion.
And all was dead for a day. Our Lord committed his spirit into his Father’s hands and breathed his last. Though we naturally enter into the spirit of all this, trying to see Jesus as one crucified and dead, yet we know what really happened. Whereas Holy Saturday ought to be a day when nothing is done, somehow our parish church is a hive of activity, with cleaners, flowerarrangers, clergy, servers, sacristans all flurrying to prepare for what is really the focus of the last 40 days; the celebration of the Resurrection. This is what it is really about.
I’d like us to consider the real weight of these last words from the cross. I suppose that many of us see the phrase “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” as meaning, effectively, “Father, here I come, please catch me,” if that doesn’t sound too irreverent. Actually, I think the meaning is a great deal deeper. The whole meaning of Christ’s sacrifice of himself was to reverse the disobedience of Adam, in other words of all of humanity whom Adam represents.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
In taking on our nature, and making us part of himself, part of his mystical body, through our reception of the sacraments, especially in our reception of his Eucharistic body (“We become what we receive,” said St Augustine), our Lord, too, represents us, not in disobedience, but in obedience.
He hands everything over to his Father; his life, his suffering, and even, finally, his spirit, and this obedience brought redemption for all of us who believe in him and do as he commands, imitating his obedience rather than Adam’s disobedience:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5-11).
We too, then, should hand over everything to God our Father that, having lived and died in Christ, we too shall rise with him: “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:1112).
May I wish you a very blessed Easter, and thank you for accompanying me on this Lenten journey; may the death and resurrection of our Saviour bring us all to his heavenly kingdom.