On this Palm Sunday, we began our celebration by going back to the beginning of that Passover celebration so many years ago. Jesus and his followers triumphantly entered Jerusalem.
It was a celebratory scene of great jubilation and anticipation. The people expected Jesus to come and fulfil the promises of the Messiah and restore the Kingdom of Israel. So, they brought out the palm branches and laid them on the ground – an act that is something like laying out the red carpet today – and shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” All while Jesus humbly rode into town on the back of a donkey.
This is the week where we find ourselves back in Jerusalem and the events surrounding Jesus’ Passion. Each day is an opportunity to reflect upon the events that immediately preceded Jesus’ death and resurrection and what they mean for us. These events changed the world, and continue to influence and change the world today. For the last five weeks, it is like we have already been in Jerusalem as we have examined the final words Jesus spoke on the cross. Our next two words – today and on Good Friday – are the last words we have before his death.
This passage, from Luke 23:45-46, represent the final word Luke records from Jesus before his death. He is the only Gospel writer to include this statement from Jesus, and does so surrounded by a unique occurrence that is also mentioned in Matthew and Mark. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke describes this scene in the moments before Jesus breathes his last breath.
We are told of a scene that takes place at the Temple and inside the Holy of Holies. This was located in the center of the Temple and was believed to be the place where God’s presence resided. It was the most holy and sacred place in the Temple and where the Ark of the Covenant, which held the copy of the Mosaic Law and other items from Moses’ leadership, was also kept.
The importance of the Holy of Holies was that it was also the place where the priest would go to atone for the people’s sin. Only the priest could enter into this room. No one else was allowed in. When the priest did enter, a thick curtain would separate the priest and the Holy of Holies from the rest of the people. It served as something like a divider between the people, the priest, and God.
Luke tells us that in the moments before Jesus’ death, the Temple’s curtain was torn in two. This was a heavy fabric, so the fact the curtain was suddenly torn in two would have been impressive for anyone. It is an event with deeply symbolic significance and describes what Jesus is doing on the cross. Through his body, Jesus is healing the division between God and humanity. Jesus is creating a pathway, through the cross, for people to relate directly with the Father. Jesus was atoning for the people, not through separation, but through the love that was exhibited on the cross.
This emphasizes what is taking place as Jesus prepares to breathe his last breath. He is establishing a new way of life between God and humanity and is doing so with his life. That is why Luke offers these words prior to Jesus’ words. He wants to describe what is taking place as Jesus speaks his last words. Hear these words again, as we seek to understand what they meant for Jesus and what they mean for us.
“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”
Many of us are likely familiar with a number of childhood prayers that were taught to us when we were growing up. Prayers such as “God is good. God is great. And we thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed. Give us Lord this daily bread;” are familiar to us and, on occasion, we might be led to say them again.
There is another familiar childhood prayer that helps us relate to this word from Jesus today. A bedtime prayer that many of us have likely said. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Ever say that one? It is a prayer of protection. We are asking God to keep us safe. It is a prayer that our parents likely taught us as a way to teach us to pray and to give us important and meaningful words to pray.
In Jesus’ time, children were given a similar prayer to pray when they would go to bed each night. The prayer echoes the words from Psalm 31:5. David writes, “I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God.” Sound familiar? Much like our childhood prayer, it is a prayer asking for God’s care and commits the one praying to the Lord’s provisions. We’ll talk more about the context of that prayer in a moment.
Notice that Jesus quotes these words while on the cross. I tend to think this was not the first time Jesus said these words in his ministry. The words were so important and powerful that I believe they were constantly on his mind, whether on the cross, throughout the events that occurred during what we now know as Holy Week, or during his entire ministry.
That is because the meaning of this prayer tells us a lot about Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the kind of relationship Jesus desires us to have. In the prayer, David responds to a feeling of complete defeat and how he has been overtaken by his enemies. His prayer gives this desperate moment over to God for care, guidance, and protection.
This is the prayer that Jesus choses to echo, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry. It is a prayer of deep commitment to the Father. A prayer that reminds us that everything Jesus did and does was led by a deep sense of trust in the Father’s guidance and direction. Jesus is led completely by the Father and gives his all things to him.
This is especially significant in this moment after the end of what should have been a week of celebration, but ended with his death on the cross. Jesus entered the week heralded by the people as the expectant Messiah, the One who has come to save the people. The entire week, we see the people’s perception of Jesus change as he more directly engages the religious leaders and political authorities. Jesus becomes, not the king they want, but the king they and we need by his actions, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus goes from being the heralded King to a despised criminal. He goes from the one loved to the one despised. He goes from being surrounded by many to being left alone on the cross.
In these final moments, it is appropriate that Jesus gives these last moments, truly his entire life as he had, to the Father for his care and protection. Jesus calls upon the Lord and, even as he has experienced the worst humanity could throw at him, and asks him to care for him, to protect him, and to do his will. It is almost an echo of another will where Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but your will be done.” In all moments, Jesus was led by a deep sense of trust and confidence in God’s provisions, care, and will for his life.
What about us? How do we handle moments of difficulty and challenges? Life is filled with moments where we feel overwhelmed and are not sure how to go forward. Maybe we are dealing with a difficult moment in our families. Maybe we are dealing with a difficult moment with our finances. Maybe we are dealing with a difficult moment at work or some other situation. We all face moments where we feel dejected, rejected, betrayed, or even unwanted.
How do we react to these moments? The tendency is to run. We do not run from these moments. We engage the difficult moments of life with a fierce determination to make sure we get through these times. What we run from in these difficult situations is our faith in God. We don’t give them over to God, because we believe God only is involved when life is easy. When life is difficult, we believe that it is all on us.
Jesus’ presence in our life tells us something different. God is just as present in the difficult as God is present in the good moments of life. The prayer of Jesus from the cross teaches us that we can give every moment of our life over to God. Jesus leads us in a way of life to where we give every moment over to God. To live with a confidence, a hope, that God is active and present in all things.
As those who seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps, we are called to give everything over to God, trusting in the Lord’s presence to be alive and at work. This means for us to live with these words of Jesus as an active prayer of our life. Where we commit everything about us, everything we are going through, everything we could ever imagine, to God and trust in his presence and will. We may not always see God’s presence and working, but as this journey of Lent has taught us, in everything God is at work. We can trust God in the most difficult situations and give them over to the Lord, because God is at work and is working through them.
This week, we will embark on the journey of this Holy Week together. We’ll read the stories of Jesus’ encounters in Jerusalem. We’ll remember the scene in the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Pilot’s headquarters. We’ll find ourselves at the cross. As we do, I invite you to see this time as a time to walk as Jesus walked through this week. As a time to walk as Jesus walked throughout his entire ministry and walks with us today through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can walk with confidence and trust that in all things God is at work. May the prayer of Jesus be our prayer in good times and bad times. May we entrust all things to God’s care and provision, leaning upon his loving guidance and direction for our lives in all things.