“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” John. (Luke 23: 46)
“Having said that he breathed his last.” A psalm again--Psalm 31:5--a cry reaching out to God from extreme pain and loss, ceding all will and power to God, “deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.”
The Psalm continues:
“My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; / my strength fails because of my affliction, / and my bones grow weak.
Who but God will bring release, comfort, salvation, relief? And these words come from deep within Jesus’s soul, from deep in his history, from ancient Scripture.
Down through the ages believers appeal to God when the end is close, when earthly resources are not enough, when we move beyond worldly, physical forces to find the transcendent as Jesus learned from the Psalms and the Prophets and we learned from him.
“Alone with none but thee, my God, / I journey on my way. / What shall I fear if thou are near, / O King of night and day? / More safe am I within thy hand / Than if a host did round me stand.” --St Columba prayed this from his sense of isolation.
We on earth can feel a deep sense of isolation, an emptiness not filled with riches or power. The very human sense that life has no meaning, that we stand alone and empty, has been part of the human condition expressed in theology, poetry, art, music and in the words of ordinary people. We become desolate, wrapped in grief when people die, when love is lost, when we lose our way. To whom do we turn?
“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you,” St Augustine said.
And God is always here for us. God, ever-present, needs us to reach out to Him, to call on Him so we can be filled.
“For the Lord greatly loves humankind and is deeply moved whenever human beings, in their inmost self, turn wholly to him.” —Makarios the Great
Emily Dickinson, who led a life alone in her room dressed in white, wrote: “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”
Desert Mother Amma Theodora said: “Never forget that in a life of intense prayer, God becomes your defense in all the virtues. When needed, the mighty Lord will come to your defense, fully armed.”
It was the total trust that Jesus had in God, his Father, that kept him true to his mission. Jesus faced public humiliation and death while trusting his Father’s purpose for him. He prayed to be relieved from this mission, but accepted his destiny. He prayed to his Father, “Not my will, but thine.”
His final words from the Cross express his personal dedication to his Father, even unto death. And we are witness to his whole and holy surrender. Did they understand at the time that this was a final glory? Did they know that God was there at Jesus’s side, ready to bring his Divine Light to shine into the depths of Hell, ready to liberate the dead and destroy death forever?
No. At the time, there was grief. There were cosmic forces, expressed in Nature, that were signs that something beyond anything they knew before had happened. Even the soldier at the foot of the Cross confessed, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
What lay ahead then, and in our commemoration now, is the descent from the Cross and burial. But now we know what is coming. And we have the example of Jesus who faced death with the fear and agony of a human yet put his final trust in God, a trust to fully commit himself to his Fathers Will, his love, his glory.
That this is so helps us know the path to take in our human loneliness, confusion, doubts and feelings of inadequacy and existential meaninglessness. Commit our souls to God. Find our strength and refuge in Him even as his Son did in his final hours.
It is traditional to listen to music after reading each "Word." The music deepens our meditation. Here are two that you might want to listen to.
The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross, by Joseph Haydn (There is an orchestral version, a version for string quartet, and a choral version. Here’s the choral version. Sorry for the ad at the beginning. You can see what each movement is if you look online.
And here is music from Eastern Good Friday
About the Music:
“El Yom Ollika” from the album Good Friday Eastern Sacred Songs
Alyawm ealaq ealaa khashabat aldhy ealaq al’ard ealaa almia
‘Iklyl min shuk wade ealaa hamat malak almalayika
Birafiraan kadhbaan tasrbl
Aladhi washah alsama’ bialghuyum
Qabl latmat aldhy ‘uetaq ‘adam fi al’urdun
Khatn albayeat samar bialmasamir
W ‘iibn aleadhra’ taen biharba
Nasjud li’alamik ‘ayuha almasih
Fa’arna qiamatuk almajida
On this day is crucified on the Cross
He who suspended the earth upon waters.
A crown of spines crowns the King of angels.
He was dressed in a purple robe of mockery,
He who adorns the heavens with clouds.
He accepts to be smote,
He who released Adam in the Jordan.
The Spouse of the Church is transfixed with nails,
And the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We adore Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us Thy glorious resurrection.
About the Text and Music
The Maronite Syriac Church of Antioch is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It traces its heritage back to the community founded by Maron, a fourth-century Syriac monk venerated as a saint. Although reduced in numbers today, Maronites use many hymns sung in the ancient Syriac language, which closely resembles the Galilean dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus. Tarateel Marounya (Maronite music) is frequently composed in acrostic verse, like many Psalms, and since the ninth century has also been influenced by the rhyming schemes of Arabic poetry.
About the Performer
Fairouz (b. 1934) is a Lebanese singer and actress widely considered to be one of the most celebrated Arab singers of the twentieth century. Fairouz’s husband was Assi Rahbani.
Thanks to the folks at the Lenten Project of Biola University for the notes on the Eastern Good Friday music and performer.
Judith Scott holds a masters degree from Union Theological Seminary.