This was offered as a Good Friday reflection on the Seventh Word of Christ, at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville.
Luke 23:44-49 “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”
At the beginning of this week
we saw Jesus welcomed, hailed and celebrated
with cries of Hosana! as he entered Jerusalem.
Jesus had become a well-known figure.
He was sought after and celebrated
by many as the coming King of Israel,
as the Messiah — the Savior of the world.
But then the mood shifted.
Many people – especially those in power —
became increasingly wary of Jesus.
No one knew quite what to make of him.
There was a growing consensus that he was dangerous.
A threat to the powers that be.
The cost of being his friend or his follower
That last supper, which we remembered
yesterday, must have been wrought
The foreboding that filled the air surely
could have been cut with a knife.
One of those closest to Jesus
rose from the table, betraying him
in exchange for a small purse of coins.
By now Jesus’ closest friends have scattered.
As the horror of his execution
comes into focus, a few followers gaze
on the scene from a distance.
Perhaps feeling betrayed
Jesus is isolated and alone as
he hangs on a cross at Golgotha.
For him, the betrayal is complete.
All he has left is a Father who seems
absent at best.
At worst, indifferent.
In the midst of unimaginable suffering,
at the point of death, Jesus finds the strength,
the courage – despite evidence to
the contrary — to trust.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
We may have moments in our lives
when we are able and willing to trust,
even in the face of immeasurable hardship.
But to be so completely free of self-interest,
free of self-centered fear and worry that
we are able to surrender our wills,
to let go absolutely?
Our 12-step friends know that the courage to
surrender in the face of such pain and fear
is grace-filled. It is God-given.
A few weeks ago, we met with Catholic lay leaders
at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
to see how they might join with us through
our Church Without Walls, to collaborate
in our ministry with the homeless and urban poor.
After our meeting — when we walked out
onto Duval Street —
I met a man named Antoine.
He had just walked past us, but then
spun around and lurched toward me.
“Can I talk to you?” he pleaded.
His face was contorted in anguish.
“I’m having such a hard day,” he explained.
“I’m homeless. Everywhere I turn, people
are being so mean.
Shouting at me, cursing me.”
In the course of that one day,
Antoine had been spat upon,
threatened and shamed.
Looking into the depths of those dark,
soulful eyes, I saw Christ.
The One who poured himself out for us all.
The One who chose to trust, when those
closest to him had pulled away.
When the Father who sent him was
In our brief exchange, Antoine somehow
chose to trust.
He asked for nothing but someone to listen.
He shared his heartache and exhaustion.
We prayed together.
Then, as quickly as he’d approached me,
he turned on his heel to make his way
down the street.
My Catholic friends were perplexed.
“How did you know it was safe
to engage with him?
How did you know what to do?”
I assured them that there are incremental,
concrete steps that can be taken to educate
and equip those interested is learning
this ministry of presence.
There are trainings and supportive
conversations we can provide that can
help build a comfort level for
engaging in this transformative work.
No experience is necessary.
In fact, it is often better to come to it
empty-handed, with open hearts and minds.
For, when we are willing to bring only ourselves,
that is when the Spirit moves
most profoundly among us.
It takes courage to be present in the
face of another’s suffering.
It is human to resist it.
That’s why so many of us get anxious even at
the thought of visiting someone in hospital.
When we become willing to take the first step—
to suit up and show up –
the Holy Spirit always fills in the gaps.
“We cannot serve at a distance,” writes
author Rachel Naomi Remen.
“We can only serve that to which we are
that which we are willing to touch.”
The greatest gift the Church can offer
in the face of immeasurable suffering
is a compassionate presence.
It is counterintuitive – and very awkward at first —
for we are a society of people conditioned
to Act. To Fix. To Measure. To Solve.
Antoine owned nothing but the clothes
on his back.
On the street that day, he did not seek
money or material things.
He sought something that proved nearly
impossible to attain.
He sought human connection.
He sought someone to listen.
Jesus has done the heavy lifting,
walking to his death, willingly.
Shedding the comfort of friends and community
as he found himself rejected, vilified,
“All of his acquaintances, including the women
who had followed him from Galilee,
stood at a distance, watching.”
In our own way, each of us suffers
during our earthly pilgrimage.
But it is hard to imagine that the One
who created everything that is —
that the One who is Love —
wants us to suffer alone,
As followers of the Way of Jesus,
we are called to draw on the well of compassion
that is shaped and filled by our own suffering.
We are called to be present to the suffering
in our hurting world.
Jesus does not call us to pay the price of sin.
He calls us to pay the price of love.