This sermon is based on Luke 23:44-47. The Christian churches in the town have got together and there is going to be a walk of witness with each church doing a portion of the passion narrative.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
These are Jesus’ final words as reported in the Gospel of Luke and they echo the words of Psalm 31:5 “Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, oh Lord, faithful God.”
But listen to the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse.”
In order to understand what is going on in Luke’s Gospel story, we need to understand that – from the point of view of the religious establishment – Jesus has absolutely no business at all commending himself into the hands of God at the moment of his death. A commendation into the hands of God at Jesus’ funeral should have properly been the business of a rabbi.
But the religious establishment had turned its back on Jesus and no rabbi or other religious official was present at the hour of Jesus death to offer this commendation. Jesus was a cursed man and therefore compelled to make such a prayer for himself.
The received religious tradition as expressed in Deuteronomy pronounced Jesus guilty and it was it up to an outsider – a Roman soldier – to perceive Jesus’ innocence.
Most of us are probably so used to hearing this story that we fail to hear how truly outrageous it is. And one thing that we must not do is turn this into a story about Jews and Gentiles; to do so would be both anti-Semitic and incorrect about what is going on. In this story, we are not to put ourselves in the place of the one person who saw Jesus as innocent. We – you and I – are the people who found Jesus guilty and crucified him.
So, this afternoon, let us hear clearly the scandal of cross.
Get away from this mindset that we would have known that Jesus was innocent. We would not have known that. We would have been certain – absolutely 100% certain – that Jesus was a dangerous religious fanatic.
We would have been more certain than we ever had been about anything in our lives that Jesus had to be executed as soon as possible.
Even those individuals among us who have a general inclination to mercy would have understood that it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.
Let us be clear that we would have been certain that this religious fanatic, this delusional Messiah had absolutely no right whatsoever to call upon the name of our God. He had no right to commend his spirit into the hands of that God. And he most certainly had no right to call God by the name of “Father”.
But precisely what he did was to call upon God as his Father.
Before Jesus uttered these words, it appeared to everyone present they had been effective in denying him access to God. In speaking these words of commendation, Jesus shifted the entire context of his death.
This was not a man being executed for crimes he had committed. This was not a man whose life was being taken from him in the name of justice. This was a man, fully human and fully divine, who was freely giving up his life in order to forgive those who had condemned him to death. You cannot take from someone that which is freely given.
Jesus said: “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit”. In doing so, he redefined what was going on. And everything – absolutely everything – was turned upside down.
There was darkness and there was a rip and the very fabric of creation was torn in two. For he who is at the centre of all creation died and his death changed everything. Everything old has passed away and everything has become new.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.