It is, indeed, his Spirit that matters. “Spirit,” from the same Greek word — pneuma — that gives us “breath,” Jesus is leaving us more than a memory. He is giving us an indwelling of God in our lives. Never again will we be alone, if we are prepared to watch and listen for the Spirit’s gentle movement.
From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, the Incarnate Word of God visited earth and lived among us so that God might draw us all to himself. That experiment in divine interaction was coming to a close, and none of us would ever be the same. Bowing his head, Jesus handed over his spirit.
If we have any doubt of Jesus’ humanity — and that he is truly suffering — this simple and natural urge to slake his thirst ought to set us straight. Throughout his life, Jesus shows us over and over again the emotions, traits and urges that make him human. He weeps and cries, he mourns, he gets angry, he becomes tender, he eats and sleeps and thirsts. It is his incarnation — Word of God into flesh and bone —that binds and attracts us to him.
It was perhaps Earth’s darkest three hours ever, from noon to three o’clock on that first Good Friday, when the world was draped in a gray veil and Jesus hung heavy and nearly lifeless on the cross, his life slowly ebbing away and his breathing labored and weak. It is the man Jesus — the human just like us — who cries out loudly these words of hopelessness and utter dejection: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As we walk our Christian life, we are called to be more aware of one another. We are asked to “behold” one another, for certainly there are those in our life — whether we are aware or not — who are suffering and in need of our attention. Indeed, perhaps what they most need is for us to simply see — behold — them.
What kind of response the penitent thief was expecting we can only guess, but I can’t believe he thought for a moment he would hear this from Jesus: “Okay, I will,” Jesus says. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise — another world, another day, another chance.
Jesus, instead, turns away from hatred, denial and retribution and toward love, acceptance and forgiveness: “Forgive them, Father…”
What resonated was the thought that these few lines so simply and beautifully retold Jesus’ great commandment to us — that we are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls, and that we are to love those around us as much as we love ourselves.
These three days of the Christian liturgical year — the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — tell the story of Jesus’ final days and minutes and, at the same time, remind us all of the one inevitable moment that hangs like the tarnished old chandelier in the midst of our living rooms: our own deaths.
We need big chunks of time when we’re not watching the clock, when we’re not worried about the next appointment. We need this time to be available to God and available to others. This availability — this love — doesn’t come free or even cheap. It will cost us something.