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On Good Friday (Essay)

Published on 25th March 2016
Written for service at the Franklin United Methodist Church. 

When I come to read the fifth words, “I thirst,” a question comes to mind. “What does it mean to be human?” 

As a writer, but even more so, a young adult, I let myself think too hard, too often, too much, on all that a single word could mean. Concepts and ideas unfold to me as strange and dangerous as new worlds, and it often feels like I will never understand life as much as I could want or need.

In my most quiet moments, I’ve often flipped through the Bible, pored over its thin and tender pages, and felt distracted and overwhelmed. What does it all mean? How can you “unpack” and come to understand not just each verse and happenstance, but that big, life-encompassing word: faith? 

In my most quiet moments, when I sit and grapple with the word “faith,” my “literature student” mind instinctively jumps to analysis. Faith is: the physics of life itself; a greater power and a greater plan; a stronger hand moving and mixing elements of the universe; forces beyond my own control. Do we not sit in the greatest, tallest cathedrals to sit humbled before the enormity and power and might of God?

But these ideas dwarf me and swallow me more often than they humble me. How could a “force beyond my control” ever ease my mind in a world full of worries, terrors, struggles and heartbreaks? How could a “higher power” come to feel the fear and uncertainty of a lost job, a friend’s battle with depression, or the news that the cancer has come back? The agony of a city enveloped in ash or a toddler awash on a beach? Somehow an unnamed force, all knowing and powerful, feels impervious to horror and pain, unyielding to grief. 

In my most quiet moments, it is the figure of Jesus and his struggle that calms me, even if there’s so much I still won’t ever understand.

We come on Good Friday to re-consider and reflect on not just any words, but the seven last words of Christ. By the time the fifth words are spoken, we find Jesus alone, emotionally bereft, and physically decimated.

“Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, ‘I thirst.’”

As others observe, it His only human expression of His physical suffering. He is in a state of shock—the wounds inflicted upon him in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the nailing upon the cross are taking their toll. And after walking through the city of Jerusalem on the way to the cross, He is empty even of the blood that sustains him.

He saith “I thirst,” and he says to me, “I too am human. I too have known the sharpest pain, and I have felt the hollow ache of loneliness. I too have peered into the dark, I too have fallen. I too know loss, fear, agony, abandonment. I too know thirst.”
He too is human, and feels the weight of humanity. It is in Jesus’s struggle that the word “faith” transforms. 

We may never understand the physical, emotional pain Jesus bore on the cross, an utmost and almost otherworldly agony. But in that moment, a phrase is uttered. In that moment, a call for love and compassion is brought into our lives, and a greater power hovers amongst men.

In our suffering and our struggles, in our lowest moments, we are united in humanity, brothers and sisters. Have we not felt most human, most mortal and fallible, when we’re at our lowest, and we reach out for answers, for warmth, for nourishment, for fulfillment? For mercy? And in turn, in a shade more hopeful, have we not felt most whole when extending kindness, opening our arms, offering empathy and understanding? When we let love in where we have nothing left?

And yet the words are spoken, His suffering continues. The burden of humanity grows heavier still.
“I thirst.” 

A figure most powerful, in his most human moment, and I am face to face with a more knowing and empathetic force: a real and feeling person like me. The greater power is not beyond the rafters of the cathedrals, but in two words, asking for a drink. It is somehow, in a cry for help, that my faith is watered.