Reunion: Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit
In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel the angel of the Annunciation says to Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy child to be born will be called Son of God” (Luke 1: 35). Twenty-two chapters later, the story that began with an announcement of incarnation in advance of Jesus’ birth, is now brought full circle by the prayer he utters moments before his dies. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, and with these words, Luke tells us, he died.
Jesus’s final Word from the Cross adds an additional dimension to his murmured declaration a short time before, ‘It is finished’. With his earthly mission complete, he returns to the source from which he came. Yet it is easy to misunderstand this moment that tradition labels ‘re-union’. The early Christians soon began to think that Jesus was not a messenger sent by God, as the prophets had been. His relationship to God was much more intimate than this. With hindsight they came to see that his life and death had a unique authority. His words and deeds were not simply a revelation FROM God, but more dramatically a revelation OF God. Subsequent attempts to grasp this truth, and express it more adequately, led them first to the perplexing doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Christ, and then to the even more perplexing doctrine of the Trinity – Jesus is not simply Son of God, but God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
These are doctrines with which Christian thinkers and theologians have struggled ever since, and though the technicality of their debates makes them a closed book to many wayfaring Christians, the two doctrines nevertheless lie at the heart of the Creeds that Christians all over the world have affirmed repeatedly for almost two thousand years. Why? Why struggle in this way? Why can’t Jesus simply be a prophet and a teacher, like Moses or Muhammad?
The answer lies in the Resurrection. It was not the agonized body on the Cross that replaced Peter’s fear with faith, or that moved the first Christians to spread the Good News at the risk of persecution. The driving force, rather, was their belief that the Crucifixion had been a victory of Good over Evil, a triumph of Love’s redeeming work, even in the face of the very worst that human beings can do to each other. The proof of this belief, though it took some time to sink in, was to be found in the empty tomb, and the Risen Christ. So the final words with which Jesus died are an act of commitment that gives expression to the most profound trust. It is the union with God constituted by that trust from which, strangely, new life springs.
‘In God we Trust’ has been used quite widely as a motto, most famously by the United States, but by other countries and communities also. No doubt it has been proposed and adopted in all sincerity. Still, set alongside the last Word from the Cross, these affirmations can hardly fail to sound shallow. That is why there is a perpetual need to turn to Christ on the Cross, and seek to discover afresh what a spirit of trust in God truly means.
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