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.
Jesus, instead, turns away from hatred, denial and retribution and toward love, acceptance and forgiveness: “Forgive them, Father…”
They are the faces in the crowd, some standing on tiptoe to get a glimpse of this condemned prophet or rabble-rouser, take your pick, as he stands mute before the authorities, as he flinches but never complains against the searing heat of the lashes, as he bears the weight of the beam across his shoulder blades and feels the bite of the sheer mass and the splintered wood.
By Your Side: A Way of the Cross for Teens, just released this week, is a re-issue of an earlier publication as a booklet and musical/spoken word CD by ILP Music, produced by Vince Ambrosetti with music by Ruben Galabeas and Msgr. Michael Heras.