“I am thirsty.”

(Photo taken at Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Augustine, FL.)

(Photo taken at Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Augustine, FL.)

This reflection was offered this afternoon as part of a series of reflections on The Last Seven Words of Christ at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Jacksonville, FL.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished,
he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
A jar full of sour wine was standing there.
So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop
and held it to his mouth.
(Jn 19:29-29)

It takes on average about 3 or 4 days
for a person to die of thirst.
This is under fairly normal conditions.
In the desert, in intense heat,
or in cases of extreme exertion
or physical duress,
it happens more quickly.
The water in your system is drawn away
from important organs — like the brain —
to replenish the blood which is ordinarily 80% water.
Your body’s vital systems begin to shut down.
You might experience a seizure or stroke
or fall into a coma.

In his captivity, Jesus has been denied
food and water.
He hangs on the cross for hours,
a staggeringly heavy cross that
he has been forced to carry
through the streets of Jerusalem.

As he hangs there, his torn and bloodied flesh
is coated with the thick dust of the road.
This sticky dust clings to his scalp.
It is in his hair, in his eyes.
It is caked along the edges of his parched, cracked lips.
This dust coats the inside of his mouth –
where it is mingled with the salt of sweat and tears,
with the metallic taste of his own blood.

“I am thirsty.”

Jesus’ willing act of submission is an act
of inextinguishable love.
It is born in the deepest desire of God for all of humankind,
for you and for me.
Jesus embraces his divine purpose,
He yields to the will of the One Holy God.
This thirsty Jesus swallows Death itself
so that we might live.

The way of Jesus is not convenient.
It is not comfortable.
If we want to follow Jesus, we must take up our cross.
But exactly how are we to enter into the experience of Jesus
as he gave himself up to be crucified?

An alcoholic who is in the grip of her illness
understands thirst in a way others find hard to imagine.
A drug-addled father — who wants nothing more than
to be a faithful, attentive spouse,
a good provider, and a strong leader —
and yet finds himself gripped by a
compulsion of body, mind and spirit
that tells him there is only one way to quell
that agonizingly relentless urge –
he too understands thirst.

Our 12 step programs tell us there is only one sure way out
of the grips of such a devastating illness:
We must come to recognize the true thirst
that resides deep within each one of us –
the human thirst that Jesus took on when
he became “God with us.”
We must enter into relationship with the Living God
who will solve our problem.

I recently read about a young woman named Chelsea
who nearly died from severe anorexia.
At her lowest point, she tipped the scales at 58 pounds.
She shared her story out of a desire to help others
who are trapped in silence and isolation as
they struggle with their own demons.
In her willingness to be vulnerable,
she offers the possibility of a way out
of a seemingly hopeless situation.

Her words of hope are credible because
they are born out of personal experience.
She says this:
“I feel like a child who was once desperately thirsty,
who was given enough water to survive and
shake her thirst, and now feels compelled to go out
and give water to anyone who is parched.”
Each time she shares her story of salvation –
Each time she sees another person respond,
Chelsea experiences immense joy and gratitude.
It is as if she is taking the first sip all over again.

We all have a deep thirst within us,
though we don’t always recognize it.
Sometimes it shows up in self-destructive behavior.
Other times it can be seen in tremendous acts of
self-forgetting generosity.
Mother Theresa reported a deep thirst for Jesus
that manifested in her life’s work, reaching out
to the sick, the poor and the forgotten.
Jesus’ thirst for suffering humanity became her thirst.

Yesterday, in the middle of the day,
the body of Christ came together
in the parking lot of St. Philip’s Church,
where we washed the feet of some 200 people
and shared fellowship and prayer with even more.

People kept coming – from the streets mostly —
but also from office buildings and
from various parish families.
I can’t say for sure why each person came,
but I like to imagine that many were drawn
by a deep thirst.

One man – Irvin – spoke with Deacon Louise.
He was not inclined to have his feet washed,
but he welcomed her prayers.
When Louise introduced us,
Irvin said that he felt that God brought him to the event,
that it was a blessing.
As we chatted, there was a hesitance in him that
he struggled to articulate.
We stood patiently with Irvin and, in time,
he admitted that he was afraid to have his feet washed —
he was afraid that his feet were too ugly.
It was clear that he was not speaking only about his feet,
but about his entire being.
He was afraid he would be rejected once again.

Eventually Irvin sat down and removed his shoes.
He announced that he would have his feet washed if
Louise would stay beside him.
As his feet were soothed and caressed,
you could almost see the layers of fear and
self-protection fall away.
Quiet tears streamed down his face as
he was healed on a deep level.

I believe that healing was possible
because Irvin was willing to be vulnerable,
to give voice to his deep thirst for connection and
to acknowledge his fear of being rejected.
Jesus enters into our vulnerability.
He swallows the fear and death within us,
taking it on to transform it into something beautiful.
He responds to our deepest thirst and sends us out
to offer water to anyone who is parched.

Those who came to help wash feet and
offer hospitality and healing prayer
were driven by another form of thirst.
They experienced Jesus’ thirst for us –
a thirst that manifests in a desire to follow His example.

This thirst is revealed in a willingness to practice
a different kind of vulnerability for Jesus’ sake.
A vulnerability born out of gratitude
for what he has done for us.

There have been many times when
I have been troubled by the presence of
a nagging, spiritual thirst.
It is easy to mistake this for the absence of God.
If it persists, it is not much a stretch to imagine
that God has abandoned or forsaken us.

But I have come to believe that
our sense of thirst is a spiritual grace.
Our unquenchable longing for God is
a reflection of his constant longing for us.
We can be united to Christ in his resurrection
only if we are willing to share in his suffering.

There is one sure way to encounter
Jesus who is the Water of Life:
offer a drink to another parched soul.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
This entry was posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, Diocese of Florida, faith, Ministry, peace, Recovery, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “I am thirsty.”

  1. Clark says:

    Good work Mother. I am looking forward to waking with Clare. Happy Easter.

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