"Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (St. Luke xxiii. 46).
AFTER the dying, before the death, there comes a drawing of quiet breath." That moment of tranquillity has come with the utterance of the Seventh Word. Death's merciful hand is stilling the agony of the throbbing flesh; and (far more blessed than that) the cloud which our sin had interposed between the Son and the Father, the cloud of desolation which our Lord had permitted to pass over Him, has rolled away; clear and confident the words peal from His lips: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." The deep waters that He has passed through have not drowned Him; the heavy burden laid upon Him has not broken Him. Sin has not prevailed; He lays down His life, indeed, but no man takes it from Him; He lays it down of Himself, commits it to the Father's hands.
The Seventh Word follows naturally on the Sixth. Because of His perfect obedience, because He has done God's will for the saving of souls so faithfully from the beginning to the end of His Incarnate Life, therefore He can now so confidently, trustfully, lovingly commend His soul to the Father's keeping. Because there has been no stain of wilfulness or perversity or rebellion in His life, there is this unsullied tranquillity at the last. He had lived loyally as God's Son and dies enveloped in the glory of the Father's love.
Yes, and the reason why we feel that we have no right to look forward to the tranquillity of a good death is just because of all the wilfulness, perversity, and rebellion which have stained our lives. And in one way that is true. Left to ourselves, dependent on our own strength, trusting in our own self-righteousness, offering the work of our own hands, we should have no right to expect peace at the last, no right to appropriate the glad confidence of those words: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit."
But Christ said these words not only for Himself, but for all of us, not as a single, exceptional man, isolated from us by His great goodness, but as our representative bearing our sins and paying the ransom for them in His Passion. It is not one good man who says these words for himself alone, but it is God Incarnate Who says them for the human race. As our representative, as the Incarnate Son, He now with the last word before His death, speaks to God as "Father."
So we see that Christ's work of Redemption does something more for us than that which we were just now considering.
It not only makes us citizens in God's Kingdom, obedient to His will, finishing that will in our lives; it makes us also sons and daughters responsive to His love. The son who had wandered away comes back to his Father's house. But he could never have come back of himself; shame and weakness would have kept him away. But there was One Who came to share his exile and his misery; sat by him in that far country where he kept the swine and ate the husks; entered with instinctive sympathy into all his feelings of shame and self-hatred and remorse; Who elicited from him the bitter cry, "How many hired servants of my Father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" One Who entered into the depths of that stricken soul with love unutterable, Who felt its misery and defilement with a grief more poignant than its own; One Who by the power of His own sufferings and the attraction of His sympathy led the outcast gently back from despair to repentance and confession, took him by the hand and brought him home to his Father's house. The action of Christ's Redemption of us is implied in the prodigal's return; the result of that Redemption is that sonship to God, lost by centuries of sin, is restored to all mankind, and appropriated by each individual in Holy Baptism.
"Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Christ the Sin-bearer, Christ our representative, says these blessed words for each one of us. We could not have dared to say them for ourselves; we were outcasts and aliens; we had sinned against Heaven and in His sight, and were no more worthy to be called His sons; but by Christ's meritorious Cross and Passion we are brought back to the Father's household. "This my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found."
Once and for ever, let us resolve to think of God as the loving Father waiting with outstretched arms for the return of the children who have insulted and left Him; yes, and as sending His own Son to bring them back by the sacrifice of Himself. It follows necessarily that, as we are made God's children by the merits of Christ's Redemptive Sacrifice, we must live and act as God's children should. For the sake of Christ's death, God takes us as His children, because through union with Christ we are going to behave as His children. So here again the act of Communion follows up and completes the work of Redemption. We are not brought back to God as His children in order to be left in all our old wilfulness and perversity and disobedience. No; because He has made us God's children, therefore the holy and righteous Son comes Himself to dwell within us, that we may live the life of sonship to God in loyalty and love.
The sufferings of Christ on Good Friday will, if we plead them penitently, place us redeemed and forgiven in the presence of our heavenly Father; our Easter Communion, and every other Communion too, will bring us into that living union with the Eternal Son in the strength of which we shall be able to follow His example of filial love and obedience. Being regenerate and made His children by adoption and grace, we shall daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit, who gives Christ to us in the Sacrament. Our love for our heavenly Father, and our loyalty to Him as His children, will not be perfected all at once. There is in us a grossness of nature to be gradually refined by Him; there are elements of perversity and self-will to be gradually cast out; elements of pride and conceit to be still more slowly got rid of. And it may be long before we shall feel in our hearts anything of that glow of love for our Father and the hallowing of His Name and the coming of His Kingdom and the doing of His Will.
We must have patience. Years of obstinacy and neglect and sin cannot be cancelled in a moment. Christ does not work in us by magic, but by a gradual process of transformation, as He gets control first over one portion and then another of our nature; and by our patience and perseverance we co-operate with Him in His work. Let us then be penitent and patient, regular and persevering in our Communions, and careful and honest in our preparation. Then each Communion will bring us into a closer and more living union with the strong Son of God Who loves us and gives Himself to us in the Sacrament, in order that we also may love the heavenly Father and serve Him with loyal devotion.
Then at the end, when our life's work is finished, by the grace of Christ's Redemption of us on the Cross, and by the grace of His renewing presence in us through the Sacrament, we shall be able to take His own words upon our lips and say, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
In following these last scenes of the Passion we have tried to do three things: (i) To contemplate the example of our Holy Saviour, especially the example of His great humility, and shame ourselves by the comparison of our lives with His; (2) to appreciate the great work of Redemption done for us by His "meritorious Cross and Passion, whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins"--"the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ, both God and Man, Who did humble Himself even to the death upon the Cross for us miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death, that He might make us the children of God;" and (3) we have tried to see how Christ's work of Redemption done for us on the Cross must be followed by the work of sanctification done in us through Communion--that gradual work by which we who are restored, redeemed, forgiven by the merits of Christ's death are gradually moulded and transformed into His likeness through His indwelling Sacramental presence. And we have tried to see how in these ways we could attain to certain graces and virtues of the Christian life, indicated by the words of Christ from the Cross: how we could learn to pray, and to forgive, and to love, and to sacrifice ourselves; how we can practise patience in suffering; how we can grow perfect in obedience; and how we can advance in sonship to Almighty God.
Prayer, Forgiveness, Love, Self-sacrifice, Patience, Obedience, Sonship--in all of these Christ gives us a perfect Example; all of them are made possible for us by His work of Redemption whereby past sin is forgiven; and all of them may be gradually accomplished in us by that blessed renewal of our nature which He effects by His presence in the Sacrament.
Let us ask our Blessed Lord, by His Example, His Redemptive Death, His Presence in the Sacrament, to help us to pray, to forgive, to love, to sacrifice ourselves, to be patient in suffering, to be loyal in our obedience, and loving in our sonship to God.