Given at a Good Friday service, 21 March 2008
John 19:28: Jesus said "I thirst."
I’m not so far from my own "Road to Damascus moment" that can I talk with much understanding of who Christ really was. I’m finding that Faith is an open world of study and of learning, a sort of roadmap on this ephemeral journey. But a lot of the map seems to be written in some sort of Chinese, and I don’t speak Chinese.
The scholars are all over the map. They don’t agree on much at all, not the divinity of Jesus or even historical existence of Jesus.
I do not even begin to understand the "necessity" of the crucifixion. We "moderns" do not understand violent death. We have trouble talking to those few who do meet violence – military people, paramedics, police, ER people – but those experiences are so far outside our world that we really can’t fathom this whole crucifixion thing.
The Bible is interpreted, I find, in thousands of places by people who are supposed to be great scholars. A lot of what they say is lofty and beautiful. They interpret "I thirst" as Jesus thirsting for God the Father, or Cosmic Justice, or Good over Evil or the triumph of their country or their party or maybe even their football team. They even say that He (cynically?) said "I thirst" to fulfill a prophecy from Psalm 69, like this was a play with a script. Who am I to say that they’re wrong? But I suspect that they are.
Look, Jesus had a really, really bad day. He suffered unspeakable, protracted pain. He literally was nailed to a cross with dull spikes, which either crushed the bundle of wrist bones or jammed between the bones of the forearm where there are exquisitely exposed bundles of nerves. He was hung with his arms over his head, stretching his body tight. This created pain, exhaustion, and oxygen starvation from the restricted expansion of his chest. It amounted to being smothered slowly.
This came on top of a vicious flogging, a "crown of thorns," and a soldier spearing him in the side.
Maybe this was Christ’s last connection to the physical body, to his human form.
Coming among us in a human body made him vulnerable to pain. In this last connection with the body, he suffered real agony. He wasn’t acting or putting on a show; he didn’t use a miracle or magic to avoid the pain; he even refused wine laced with myrrh, a sort of narcotic which would have dulled the pain and made his death a whole lot easier. He was hurting. And he was thirsty. And what he may have been doing was confirming that His suffering really existed in the physical world, and it was not just some symbolic smoke and mirrors.
Why did Jesus have to pay this price? Couldn’t it have been avoided? I never wanted such a sacrifice - If he did it for me, I’m ashamed and I just want to go hide somewhere. I do not understand. I have only questions this evening, and a heavy heart and I profoundly fear that I’m missing the whole point.