Knowing how to pray in the midst of suffering and death is not easy. Most everything around us throughout our lives teaches us to fight and resist suffering and death as enemies. There comes a time when we realize the need to transform our perspective – or allow it to be transformed by the Spirit at work in us. How to do this often eludes us. Jesus’ journey of “seven last words” on the cross at Good Friday is a powerful example of how we are to die – He prays:
- Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). – He releases resentment and prays for his enemies
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). – He offers hope to those around him
- Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27). – He attends to the needs of those he leaves behind
- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). – He acknowledges his feeling of abandonment
- I thirst (John 19:28). – He acknowledges his own simple humble physical need, and his nee for help from others
- It is finished (John 19:30). – He acknowledges that he has finished his life, there is nothing more to do.
- Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46). – He falls into the loving care of God’s waiting embrace
In these seven brief prayers Jesus shows us some of the work of laying aside the attachments of this life and even releasing the attachment to life itself into God’s care, resisting seven Myths of Humanity
- The Myth of Enemies and Friends – Jesus gives his enemies to God’s love, not God’s wrath.
- The Myth of Deserving and Undeserving – He extends grace and hope to those around him who are “less deserving.”
- The Myth of Limited Love (There’s not enough love to go around)- He releases his mother to love and be loved by another (This is hugely important! How often to people feel trapped in a relationship with someone who has died because they never felt released to move forward, to live, and to love again?)
- The Myth of Faith without Doubt – He releases his need to appear or feel confident in his faith. (He acknowledges his need for God and his sense of God’s absence, even though his heart and mind tell him that God is always near. God doesn’t feel near at this moment, and he releases the need to appear “strong in his faith!”)
- The Myth of Self-Sufficiency – He releases his need to appear independent or autonomous. (How much of our lives is spent learning and then proving that we are self-sufficient and can do things by ourselves and for ourselves – this is the work of child hood. And yet, it is not real, and ultimately we can’t even give ourselves a drink of water without someone holding the straw.)
- The Myth of Meaning Through Production – He tears up his To Do List! (Whatever else there may have been to do, it won’t be done by him. The tyranny of expectations imposed by self or others must come to an end. Everything that will be done has been.)
- The Myth of Life Being A Possession – Jesus finally is released from the first and final myth of humanity – that our life is somehow our own to do with as we please. We are God’s handiwork, God’s children, God’s beloved. “Those who try to save their lives will lose them, while those who lose them for the sake of the kingdom will find them.” It is only in releasing our lives to God that we gain eternal life, whether at the moment of our death or 80 years earlier. Paul says in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus did not even regard his equality with God as something to cling to – how much more then must we learn to hold on loosely to this mortal life?
This is not just a lesson before dying – it is a lesson before living. “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” It is in letting go of ourselves and instead taking on Christ that we become who God made us to be, because in Christ we find the truest humanity joined with divinity, which is our ultimate destiny. It is what we were born to become, every one of us. Children are closer to it than adults. As we grow older, we take on the seven myths that we see Jesus in these prayers lay aside, not only for himself, but for all humanity.