thy hands I commend my spirit”
The last word from the cross
captures the inner meaning of the Passion of Jesus Christ. All the sin
that separates man from God has been gathered into the Son. He bears
the full weight of that separation. He experiences to the fullest
extent the distance between man and God that sin creates. It is the
only thing that sin ‘creates’ - separation and distance where unity
and intimacy are wanted.
The weight of the cross which
Jesus carried and under which he fell three times, gives place to his own
physical weight bearing down upon his hands and feet. No doubt these
physical weights weigh not so heavily as the spiritual weight of sin
pressing down upon the soul, but they make it visible to us. We are
here, but here is there, where we are all in the company “beholding these
things”. Sin’s “double agony” of suffering and death bears
down upon him in his body.
The last word of the Son,
“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” heralds his death and the
completeness of his sacrifice. All has been gathered into the Son so
that all may be offered up to the Father. This is the great good of
this Good Friday, this day of agony and death.
“All we like sheep have gone
astray”. It is
such a gentle image for such a hideous reality. Sin dehumanizes us and
renders us like beasts and monsters. We become so much less than
ourselves. Man apart from God is a vain thing. We invest our
wills, our hearts, our desires in the things which do not and cannot
satisfy, in the things which are not adequate to our soul’s true and
infinite desire for the infinite good. And if we persist in our
inordinate affections, either willing too eagerly and excessively something
beyond its created capacity and the truth of its being, or willing
sluggishly what demands more ardent fire, or willing perversely what is
intended for other purposes and ends, then we will find that our love has
itself grown cold, passive and ugly, ourselves become hardened, embittered
and frozen like a pond in the dead of winter. There is no spring in
Sin extinguishes the flame of
love. It stalls the very motions of the soul and leads to the cold,
frozen immobility so clearly imagined by Dante. Without motion,
without love there can be no activity and no delight in what is other, no
life, no vitality, no vigour. The Church reminds us at the approach of
Lent that “all our doings without charity are nothing worth”.
This is precisely the point of our Lenten pilgrimage which brings us to the
cross. Christ opens out to us the divine love which takes all our
doings of uncharitableness, all our unloveliness, into his charity.
His passion opens out to us the love of God.
There he hangs, rendered immobile
by the great weight of our sins, our sufferings, and our deaths, transfixed
by the nails of our sinfulness. There he is stretched upon the cross,
his body frozen in the very grip of death. He takes upon himself the
full immobility of sin. He gathers it all into himself. Sin’s
still weight holds him.
Yet with the increasing burden
and experience of sin’s weight pressing down upon him - the weight of the
whole world as turned away from God - the passion for the eternal good
remains. The weight which renders him immobile does not hinder the
operation of the inner spring of love in his spirit. He gathers his
approaching death into his charity. The death which stills the soul
will be taken into the heart of divine love.
“Father, into thy hands I commend
Christ wills his whole being into the hands of the Father. He has
gathered all sin into himself in the double agony of suffering and death.
He wills to die our death. But what moves in the passion of Christ is
his pure love for the eternal good. He makes our sins, our sufferings
and our deaths into an offering of worship to the Father. The very
being of the Son is to do the will of him who sent him.
Thus, here, at the approaching
climax of Christ’s passion we see the divine thing at work. Something
is made from nothing. That is divine. Full oppressed and
weighted down with the burden of our sins intolerable, he offers worship.
This is the true righteousness. This is the truth of his eternal
sonship. And this is, too, the vision of true humanity whose end and
purpose is the loving knowledge of God.
The fruit of Christ’s passion
will be his resurrection. But the logic of that is already present in
his passion without regard for its fruit. The offering of worship here
makes something out of nothing which will issue forth in the resurrection of
the body. He endures not only the death on the cross but also the
descent into Hell. All has been gathered into the Son so that in
worship all things may be offered to the Father.
Christ’s passion for the eternal
good underlies his willingness to take upon himself all that makes us
accursed to God. He is made sin for us. Here at Calvary we see
in the figure of the Crucified the truth of our sins. We see in him
the meaning of our self-willed separation from God. We see in him the
full force and fury of human folly and wickedness and of all evil.
It is our good on this day we
call “Good” Friday to behold Christ Crucified. “They shall
look upon him whom they pierced”, as the prophet Zechariah says.
We come to the cross to see our sins made objective to us in all the
hideousness and deformity of the cross, what Herbert calls “this strange
and uncouth thing” (George Herbert, The Crosse).
There are our sins and there is all sin itself.
We behold his wounds. They
are the wounds which we inflict upon ourselves and upon one another, even in
the house of friends. As Zechariah says about these wounds, “They
are the wounds I received in the house of my friends” (13.6).
We come to the cross to see our
sins which pierce him and so must we be pierced. Look and be pierced,
for he dies our death for our sins. Look upon him whom our sins have
pierced. Look and pierce your sins which are the cause of his passion.
But above all, look and love. Here is the love of God.
We behold Christ’s charity on
this day. For to see our sins in Christ is to know his love who bears
them. “He was pierced with love no less than with grief” as one
of our Anglican divines, Lancelot Andrewes, puts it, “and it was that
wound of love which made him so constantly to endure all the other...”
Christ’s charity opens out to us
the infinite fellowship of the Son’s love for the Father in the bond of the
Holy Spirit. The crucifixion reveals the infinite charity of the
Trinity. In the very grip of death we behold the greater embrace of
It is, perhaps, best captured for
us in a stone-carved image of the Holy Trinity found in the little church of
Compton Regis in England. It is best described by Austin Farrer:
There he hangs, crucified, but on
no visible cross: The nails fix him directly to the palms of the Father
enthroned, who sits, his elbows in his lap, his hands spread out. The
Father’s countenance is calm compassion, from his mouth downwards and a
little aside a dove flies toward the thorn-encircled head. The Son is nailed
to his Father’s will; he makes his sacrifice through the spirit of his
Only so can we be blessed on this
day! The Son is nailed to the Father’s will - nailed to a greater good than
all our evil on this day. It is the will of the Son to be so nailed.
thy hands I commend my spirit.”