John 19: 28-29 NRSV
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Scriptures about Jesus being crucified are difficult and painful to read. It is rather awful for us to even consider the men who put Jesus on the cross and walked around as if it was another normal day. They went so far as to gamble for his clothing as if they were doing a normal job or at a local fair. We are left with all this pain and agony and a small amount of scripture to determine what happened and why and the meaning as filtered through many great theologians and language scholars. Adam Hamilton shares how he has wrestled with this text and has found that it means much more than a simplistic or literal theory of atonement. All of these actions and stories that have been preserved for 2,000 years mean more than a simple statement reduced to these words: “Jesus died for our sins.” Many of us spent time, even as children, wondering what we did that was so terrible that a man had to be murdered for our sins. Atonement seems to be based too much on a legal point of view. A God of love would not punish us for thousands of years for a simple act of defiance by Adam and Eve and need Jesus to release us from that black mark by his death. The mystery and majesty and depth of this event are too great to fit into boxes of human language and understanding.
For Adam Hamilton, the Gospel of John reveals at least seven different ideas about the significance of Jesus’ death. Some of these we have heard, such as the atonement, the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice for God to release us and reverse what may have happened in the Garden of Eden. Other deeper meanings suggested include: a demonstration of divine love for humanity, a model for Christians to look to in practicing sacrificial love, or a compelling portrait of Jesus intended to stir the hearts so that more would come and follow Jesus and a sign of God’s ultimate power and control over death.
Jesus took on the authorities and confronted them and was terribly horribly punished. He did this to free human beings to see beyond the grave and beyond a God who both punishes and loves. This act of love cannot be denied. It is so huge and so powerful and so beyond our comprehension. Jesus showed us God’s love. The God of the Hebrews was so easily provoked and so punishing. The God of the New Testament was willing to do any act to release his creation from that concept of God. In this way, we know that Jesus committed his spirit to God in death. The same is true for us. Our spirits will be with God when we leave this earthly life. It is the way of God and the plan of creation. God did not want anyone or anything or any belief to hold us captive from knowing the extent of God’s love for us and all creation. Think about these questions. Does God want to leave anyone out? Does God have a heart for punishment? Or, do people lose their joy when they separate themselves from God by their actions?
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the beauty, the majesty, and the wonder of the cross. Thank you that it was for each of us. May our daily prayer be, “Into your hands I commit my spirit, O Lord.” Grant each of us the strength to walk with you and to accept the peace that you give that goes beyond understanding. Amen.
Rev Sharon McVean