Friday, April 06, 2012

I Thirst

A reflection for a Good Friday ecumenical service on the Seven Last Words.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
John 19:28

When it was all finished, when Jesus knew it was all done and completed, the work over, the job at an end, the terror, pain, agony, and shame of the cross borne and the terrible days, hours and minutes run down to seconds, Jesus uttered (to fulfill the Scripture) “I thirst.”

“To fulfill the Scripture.” I wonder about how we hear John’s parenthetical statement so close to the climactic moment of the Passion. I wonder what we think it means “to fulfill the Scripture.” I’m tempted to take it through the lens of the old-fashioned American Protestant work-ethic: that is to hear it as part of Jesus’ salvation productivity check-list, near the end of the Messiah’s task-list. “Oh yes, I must say these words from the twenty-first verse of the sixty-ninth Psalm. Check.” The thought makes me want to take the author of the gospel aside and berate him for ruining an otherwise perfectly dramatic moment.

Or maybe I could take the Biblical Scholar Approach and argue the author tying the Passion remembered with the sacred texts his audience already knows... Trying to persuade them Jesus is who he says he is, who we say he is. “I thirst” is then the proof-text for our argument, simply another piece of evidence in the great rhetorical gambit to sway the jury.

But I should know better. John does not waste words. And mere checklists or evidence don’t rise to the occasion. They don’t lift my eyes to the cross or get me out of the cloudy places in my head and down into the plumbing of the heart, the depths of the soul.

Jesus fulfills scripture. He doesn’t simply prove it all in a court of law or cleverly wind his way into our intellects. Nor does he please his God, his Abba Father, by simply checking every box on the Messianic to-do list. No, he fulfills scripture. He makes the old text leap to life and jump into the messiness of our own with the deep yearnings of humanity wound up in the eternal yearnings of our God.

“I thirst,” as God has thirsted from the beginning for a people who would trust and follow their Maker and Redeemer through the wilderness of this life into the Promised Land. “I thirst,” as the faithful prophets and the countless, silent unnamed holy ones thirsted for righteousness and for justice in their own time, that it might tumble down like mighty waters and wash away the idolatrous, craven, murderous appetites that run the world.

“I thirst” for the pure water that gives life, the water our sisters and brothers even this night in too many places can’t have because greed, corruption, and warfare dam it up beyond their reach. “I thirst” because you thirst and we all thirst for something we cannot quite explain, a completion yet to be rendered, a spigot yet to be opened, a tap yet to be turned. “I thirst” for the water that wells up to eternal life, to really believe and to really know that I am God’s beloved, for that water and heart-knowing that means I will never have to thirst again. I thirst, I yearn to be home with Abba, with Papa God, with Mama Wisdom, where the table is always set and the feast always prepared, and the water and wine quench every thirst and satisfy every last fiber of my being. Where there are enough chairs for everyone I love and even the strangers and enemies I don’t.

“I thirst” for that overflowing cup the Good Shepherd promises, even if he himself forgoes it so that in those last gasping breaths on the cross, the whole world may see beyond all of our denial and self-deception...may see for a few beats of the stricken heart our true thirst revealed for what it truly is: a thirst for the God that gives us all life and a Savior able, across all the chasms of suffering, shame, and death, to lead us there.

Painting: Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachthani? by Ann Kim

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