325 Days of Lent: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Like all of the seven last words of Jesus, these have provided Christians comfort throughout […]

JDK / 4.2.10

Like all of the seven last words of Jesus, these have provided Christians comfort throughout the ages. And they should, writes Hauerwas, “but that the words comfort us should not hide from us that these last words of Jesus before his death name his willingness to embrace the ice-cold silence of hell. Accordingly these words, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ are every bit as frightening as Jesus’ prior cry of abandonment. Jesus is not comforting himself; he is gesturing to the Father that he is ready to face the final work that only Jesus can do. . . 

He is no ‘Christ figure’ if by Christ-figure we mean the exemplification of a universal pattern of sacrifice for the god of others. Jesus is no ‘Christ-figure’ if we mean that his death is an exemplification of how we should all die; that is, we should die with the confidence that we have nothing to earn from death. No, this is the real and specific death of Jesus, the Savior of all that has been, is and is to come, who submits to death by our hands.” (96-97)

I find this to be a profoundly unsettling point. I would much rather theorize and systematize and turn the event of the cross into a way of explaining my life and the world around me. Initially I even considered, while everyone else talked about the cross for 40 days, focusing these Lenten reflections solely on the “presence of God’s absence”–the Deus absconditus, not the cross – hence the (at least according to me) clever name: 325 days of Lent. But, in a penitential spirit, I must confess that this has proven impossible. I’ve realized instead that part of the attraction to the concept of the Deus absconditus, but even to the distinction between the Law and Gospel, is the alluring promise of seeing through the cross. This has failed.

Progressing through Lent, it became clear to me that there is a good reason most theologians have addressed these issues as one and the same. Talking about the Crucifix — the reality of God incarnate crucified for sinners — is the same as talking about his absence, because in the everyday experience of our crucified lives we wait for and live in hope of the God who saves.
As Hauerwas points out, it is not that we suffer in solidarity with Jesus, but that our sufferings are penultimate to his, because his hold out the promise that “this to shall pass.” Practically speaking, this holding onto hope is the same as the question, “why?”. We only bring ourselves to speak if we have faith that someone is listening. Our answers to this question may run the gamut of speculation from Anselm to Aulen, but at the end of the day, what we have is faith in a completed work, a work of forgiveness, mercy and promised redemption.

This last word of Jesus is his acceptance, his final acquiescence and surrender to the will of his Father, into whose hands he commits his spirit. This is what we hold onto; it is what we profess. When we are crushed under the weight of our own lives, burdened by “what we have done and what we have left undone,” we are driven to our knees and point to our only source of hope: “the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world.”

So, the clever title is misleading, because there is no other time, no 40 days when we can look to anything other than the cross and the comforting words that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. We stand with Luther, who wrote in the Heidelberg Disputation–crux sola nostra theologia–the cross alone is our theology, and with the Apostle Paul, who endeavored to only “preach Christ and him crucified,” and we hold onto those words with passion and tenacity, 365 days a year. Thanks be to God.