As we face a growing threat to the coronavirus pandemic, in my tiny role as a pastor, I mostly hear from people about the emotions…how do we respond…people looking for peace, sense of it all… it is scary! as we watch the spread of the virus it’s hitting closer and closer to home…Two families in our little church have relatives that have been diagnosed with coronavirus...
The darkness sounds like a repeat of one of the plagues of Egypt two thousand years earlier when Moses was negotiating with Pharaoh to let the people go… ten plagues to convince Pharaoh, including darkness…
that ties in with the next fact, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” I think the image is like the parting of the Red Sea, the path of salvation, the symbol and reality of freedom for God’s people. only God could tear the foot thick curtain… as Jesus dies, the final sacrifice for our sins, the tearing of the curtain is a clear message that the high priest is no longer needed ~~ we now have direct access to the Father. Up until this moment, only the high priest was allowed to go on the other side of the curtain into the most inner place of the temple and offer a sacrifice once a year. As Jesus dies the curtain is torn in two ~~~ a powerful FACT that signifies a new relationship to God, direct access through Jesus Christ.
As Jesus dies, EMOTIONS spill over … as we face the coronavirus empidemic, emotions are flooding over…on a local FB page I saw one person post anger over seeing groups of people in public standing too close… others chimed in saying to calm down and cautioning there may be more to the story… emotions are high….
Jesus dies, the most significant event in history ~ no surprise emotions run high, they spill over, they are diverse… we have different personalities… different backgrounds… some are natural pessimists, others optimists, anger for some, withdrawal for others, high energy, low energy…. Some believe easy, forgive quickly, others are more deliberate, over think… God loves us all and is patient with us and has open arms waiting for us to work through our emotions to accept the constantly new reality…
The first emotion is shown by the Centurion… READ Luke 23:47. Explain that one if you will. What a surprisingly crazy response. The centurion of all people, the Roman soldier stationed at the cross, one who undoubtedly had witnessed my crucifixions, a most horrific way to die, the Roman Soldier that surely knew all about the politics of releasing Barabbas, the reluctance of Pilate, the flippant attitude of Herod, the anger of the religious leaders… he understood in that moment of Jesus death there was something different about Jesus. The Centurion Praised God. I doubt the man could explain the nuances of theology, but he understood something. One of the other Gospels says the soldier pronounced Jesus is the Son of God. In Luke’s telling of the story the Roman soldier declares him to be “righteous.” A good man. We cannot know the theological depth of what this man understood, but he understood something amazing happened. The Roman soldier with the front row seat praised God. The first response is one of worship and amazement.
Emotions are a funny thing. God always provides unreasonably positive people. I learned a new word this last week on the news: Positivity. The word is used in relation to stories of people doing good things like a movement of Teddy Bears in windows or children drawing rainbows… We need people who can see beyond the clutter of the crisis and see the rainbow, they are like prophets who don’t get caught up in the tragedy, but can see beyond and speak truth. We don’t know how much the Roman soldier understood but we know he was pointing beyond the death. It is doubtful he understood the resurrection was coming, but he knew something good had happened. Thank you for providing those that can cause the rest of us to lift up our eyes, to see the good beyond the turmoil, to have hope. Thank you for the Roman Soldiers among us, a most surprising man spreading positivity.
Then there is the people. the masses. most of us. READ Luke 23:48. Simple grief. Emotions. 500 times I’ve stood at the grave with families saying good by to loved ones. Either the funeral director or I speak the most hated words the family has to hear: “this concludes the service…”/// almost always, after the last word is spoken, an unavoidable moment occurs: SILENCE. It’s over. No more words. Silence. Stillness. A moment of nothingness.
When Jesus died, the people grieved and went home. over. The world will never be the same. The good Lord fills our emotions with grief. Its understandable. Soon enough the news will spread that Jesus rose from the grave, but in that moment, simple grief. It’s a good emotion. It allows us to begin to let go of what was...
Then there are the emotions of those who knew Jesus best. READ Luke 23:49. We don’t have the whole list, but we don’t need it. Those who know Jesus best are halfway between the Roman Soldier and the crowd, they stood “watching these things.” I think of their emotions as realistic optimism: Jesus died, time to grieve, but surely this is not the end, surely Jesus taught them a miracle will take place… guarded emotions, realistic but hopeful… I’ll use one person’s name commending her for her wonderful spirit: Teresa Sanders. She often calls me with very difficult news, she cries, she doesn’t understand, she questions, but always by the end of the phone call there is a sliver of light, and by the time I talk to her a few days later, she is at peace… she grieves but she is realistic as she trust in Jesus Christ. That describes many people, trusting but watching and waiting… not knowing how the Lord will answer but knowing he will… emotions are a gift from God as we face to an ever-changing world but emerging whole with a fresh spirit from God.
- The Roman Soldier praises God, thank you Lord.
- The people grieve and go home, thank you Lord.
- Those who know the Lord best watch and wait, thank you Lord.
“Father” makes it personal ~ the loving relationship of Jesus and God… it’s an emotion of trust… as I studied for this message, I learned Psalm 31:5 is a traditional prayer Jewish mothers would teach their children to recite every night before they went to bed. For many children, it would be the first verse of Scripture they ever learned. It is not impossible that this is the first verse Jesus learned from his mother as he grew and learned to talk… a childhood prayer. He knows he is about to die, and what are his last words: a childhood prayer, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
When we think of the life and ministry of Jesus, one of the beautiful teachings Jesus commending children. Luke 18:15-17 says, “One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him. Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Jesus lived what he taught. On the cross, as he is dying, Jesus reverts to the prayer of his childhood, the prayer his mother taught him in Nazareth, the prayer with which he could well have ended each day. In the last moment his mind recalls the words he learned as a little boy—"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The prayer is very close to the childhood prayer many of us know: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.”
Jesus gives us a perfect example, a perfect example of trust, an attitude of accepting whatever God chooses, a spirit of affirmation that no matter what happens we are invited to place our lives into the hands of our loving heavenly father. This prayer is the perfect book-end to last weeks message in which Jesus prayer of agony in the garden established that he fully accepted his life was entirely in God’s hands when he prayed, “If it be possible take this cup from me, not my will but your will be done.” Jesus knows he will die ~ he expresses complete trust in God to raise Him from the dead. In today’s scripture, push has come to shove, now he is dying, and he once again expresses complete trust: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
“your hands” there is no more beautiful place to be than God’s hands, may God’s hands be your retreat, your dwelling place in life and death, no matter what happens, what hardships you are facing, the corona virus is real, too real…, personal tragedy, worries, retreat to the hands of the Lord.
“I commit” is an absolute promise you are making to God. The words are one thing, but to live it is another…. To commit your life, no matter what happens, you belong to God, life or death, success or failure by worlds standards… too many times we bargain with God and praise him when things go well but question him when they don’t… that’s understandable, but in Jesus perfect example a greater emotion is possible… in this prayer, Jesus is saying I commit no matter what… If I die before I wake… If things don’t turn out as I would choose… IF, IF, IF….
“my spirit” the essence of who I am, everything that defines who I am…
There are a lot of emotions in Jesus perfect example. On this side of eternity I don’t know if I can attain such a level of trust, a perfect peace, absolute confidence, but Jesus points the way. If I can face hardship with even a smidgeon of the same trust…
in the meantime I take comfort in the emotion of the soldier that had an innate knowledge that Jesus is righteous and he praised God… the crowds understandably grieved and went home… I get that…. And those who knew him best left the door open to what his death would ultimately mean as they watched. We all have emotions as we face changes and the unknown. The example of Jesus is the most amazing of all as he reverts to his childhood prayer, not so different from ours: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.”
Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit. Amen.