This is the radio devotion I recorded for Tuesday of Holy Week 2020.
Thanks to KCNI/KBBN for airing devotions by the Custer County Ministerial Association.
Good morning. This is Matt Fowler from Broken Bow United Methodist Church. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, everything seems a little uncertain right now, and so, this week, I’m exploring five historic spiritual practices, or disciplines, that can help us experience God’s presence in the midst of our daily lives. And because it’s Holy Week, I’m going to be looking at Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross. Adam Hamilton develops these ideas in his book, The Walk, which my church has been reading during Lent.
Before jumping in, it’s important to note two things. First, the seven last words are collected by reading across the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each include different statements from Jesus. Second, because of the brutal reality of crucifixion, saying each of these things would have increased Jesus’ pain during crucifixion, and yet he found it important to say these things. These two things add weight or importance to these statements: they cost Jesus dearly to say them, and the early Christian gospel writers thought they were so important that they included them in the gospels.
Luke records that the last thing Jesus said, just before breathing his last breath, was, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lu 23:46, NRSV). If you listened yesterday, then you won’t be surprised to hear that this is another prayer statement from the Psalms, this time, Psalm 31:5. And like yesterday, there are some meaningful connections to see in Jesus praying this particular prayer. For starters, we can hear Jesus’ deep trust in God. In prayer, he gives his whole life and spirit into God’s hands, into God’s care. In praying like this, he’s drawing strength from the prayer and faith of David, who is Psalm 31, professes that he seeks refuge solely in God, who is his “rock and fortress” (vv. 1, 3).
When Jesus recognizes that there is absolutely nothing he can do to control the events of life, he does the most faithful thing he’s learned from scripture to do: he gives himself fully into God’s care through prayer. We may not like to admit this, but in our lives, much of what causes us anxiety and fear is truly beyond our control. For example, we can and should practice responsible physical distancing and cleanliness practices, we cannot control if or when we will be affected by a virus. Likewise, we cannot control the weather or the actions of others. In such times, Jesus’ scripture way of praying teaches us to entrust our lives and our livelihoods to the one who is our rock and our fortress, to God.
But there’s still one more fascinating piece of this statement. Hamilton writes that, “Twentieth-Century biblical scholar William Barclay noted that [“into your hands I commend my spirit”] was a bedtime prayer Jewish mothers taught their children to pray at night, just as you may have been taught by your mother to pray something like, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep…’” (loc 1563). Think about that. From the cross, with his mother Mary present, Jesus prays the scripture-prayer his mother taught him to pray at bedtime.
In order to develop this trust in God, Jesus learned scripture through the teaching of his mother. For us, in the midst of whatever struggles we’re facing today, Jesus invites us to read and study scripture daily, in order to listen to God. By reading scripture, alone and with others, God reveals Godself to us, and enables us to entrust ourselves into God’s capable, trustworthy, fortress-like hands.