Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.
– Luke 23:46
Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
– Psalm 31:5
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Today is the seventh and last word from the cross. For the past 6 days, we’ve encountered words of forgiveness, promises, faith, questioning, and thirst. And now Christ is moments from taking his last breath. Christ’s suffering on the cross is drawing to a close, when he cries out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The gospels each have their own twist on the story. Matthew, Luke, and Mark have Jesus crying out with a loud voice, with only Luke recording what it is Jesus said. These last words, as they are heard here, are not a cry of abandonment but rather placing himself back into the arms of the one who created him.
Henri Nouwen shares this story:
The Flying Rodleighs are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. When the circus came to Freiburg…my friends invited me to see the show. I will never forget how enraptured I became when I first saw the Rodleighs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers. The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their greatest fans. They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, …and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future… I did, and we became good friends.
One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.”
“How does it work?” I asked.
“The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.”
“You do nothing!” I said, surprised.
“Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing that the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break min, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”
When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, “Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. [God] will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.” from Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation On Dying And Caring
God is ever present with us. God is there in our success and in our failures. God is there when we are happy and when we are sad. God is in the midst of the laughter and our tears. God is present when we are standing high on top of mountain or when we are in the darkest valley. God is here in our living and with us in our dying. And when we take our last breath, ready to entrust our spirit to God’s open arms, God is there to catch us.