I Make All Things New


EVERY YEAR, BY UNSPOKEN tradition, churches get specific phone calls at certain times. In the Catholic Church, two expected phone calls are, “What time is Midnight Mass?” and “What times are you giving out ashes?” In the Russian Orthodox Church, one expected phone call in Holy Week was, “What time is the Wise Thief?” The Wise Thief is a verse of hymnody sung three times during the Matins of Good Friday, which is to say on Thursday night of Holy Week. It’s very short yet is often sung to three very different musical settings (one right after the other) and stretched out. Anything sung three times in the Orthodox Church is given a theological highlight. The Wise Thief turns to Jesus and begs, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” He is given the answer, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And then we sang:

The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise,
in a single moment, O Lord.
By the wood of Thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me.

We were discussing this at a Courage meeting a few weeks ago – and focusing on the process of repentance that brings us to where we are. It is possible to argue, in a very Pelagian way, about getting one’s life together and setting everything right. A lot can hinge on it, you know: we must get all the ducks in a row and finally turn to God. But the Wise Thief, by tradition, St Dismas, is a strong argument against that. Dismas was a dismal failure: he did nothing right except at the end.

Think about it: he was such a terrible robber that instead of just cutting off a hand and making him a beggar, he was crucified. Actually, he got caught, then he was crucified. He was a failure as an evil mastermind. But what brought him to such straights? Was he a drunkard? Was he in gambling debt? Was he simply trying to feed his family? Had he been caught stealing from a roman soldier or sleeping with the wrong woman? And what brought him there in the first place? Was he a Roman far from home? Was he poor and enslaved? Look, you don’t end up hanging on a cross by being good and sucking up to all the right people. Yet there he was.

And somehow, he was there next to God. And in a single moment, the entire life that had failed in so many ways became the path that God used to bring Dismas to himself. WIthout failure, without the sins, without the trial, without the cross, he would not be next to Jesus who – in a single moment of grace – made all things new. Jesus made that broken road of a sinful life to be the road that brought Dismas right before the Throne of God’s Glory, the Cross.

Jesus says, “Behold I make all things new.”

In the Cross, sin becomes the path to God, death becomes the path to life, and cursing becomes the path to blessedness. Our fallen world becomes the steps we climb to heaven.

Repentance is not turning around and running away: but rather a turning over to God so that he can make it all new. The sin of Adam which damned u all becomes in the incarnation, the Felix Culpa, the Happy Fault that opens the gateway to an even more glorious redemption. All things are new.

This was all rumbling in my mind when I read the following paragraph:

Gentiles also live in poverty, they also have to worry about demons and evil spirits, but the world around them is the one that they’re meant to be in. Oylem haze, [this world], is their world. Religious Christians might see themselves as pilgrims on earth, sojourners waiting to die and go live with Jesus, but there’s a big difference between a pilgrim and a refugee, even when both shlep along the same road. The Christian ideal is to be in this world, but not of it; the Jewish problem, the problem of the Jews in goles [exile], is being of this world but still not in it. We eat, sleep, go to the toilet, and die. We pay taxes and serve in the army and do business, but we’re shut out, excluded from all the usual sources of pleasure we’re on Turtle Island, and turtles are treyf [unkosher]. The chief sources of Jewish joy, shabbes and Torah, aren’t part of this world, either. Traditional Jewish culture has everything but oylem haze, which means “sensual pleasure” in Yiddish, the today for which hedonists live. Where the gentile world is an endless series of sequential “nows,” the Jewish world is nothing but “thens,” thens of the past and thens of the future: “then we were… then we’ll be… now we’re nothing.” Without the Temple, the world is nothing but another klipe, a confining husk that cannot be shaken off until the Messiah comes and redeems us.

Born to Kvetch, by Michael Wex (2005). p. 141-142

That last sentence, “Without the Temple, the world is nothing but another klipe, a confining husk…” struck me as a reality not only for Jews but also for everyone who lives without Messiah. “Gentiles also live in poverty, they also have to worry about demons and evil spirits, but the world around them is the one that they’re meant to be in.” This world is a confining husk that cannot be shaken off. Yet Christians are not in this world without the Messiah, nor without the Temple. Wex (and other Jewish writers) are fine with letting Jesus be the Gentile Messiah. He’s just not their Messiah. But there is only one. The Temple Wex is missing is the living Body of Messiah (John 2:21), that is the Church, and each of our bodies is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). This is also Jesus making all things new. We are not trapped in a husk. We are dancing in heaven, even now. This world is no longer one of Exile but (as the author noted) one of Pilgrimage. The issue is not one of civic or political power, but rather one of grace: in a single moment, Messiah rewrites the map. We are in the same world, we are dealing with the same issues, we have the same pains and the same lives. But being made new, the lives and pains come to a different end even walking the very same paths. “All the way to heaven is heaven,” as St Catherine of Siena says. “For Jesus said, ‘I am the way.'” He makes all things new: the Broken Road is Christ in our life if we but let him make it so.

This is what making all things new means. In a single moment, Jesus can take a broken sex addict and turn her into a saint (Mary of Egypt). In a single moment he can take thief and bring him to heaven. We all have the same story:

  1. I was a mess
  2. By God’s grace I was able to see that
  3. Then I tried for a long time to fix it
  4. By God’s grace I was brought to see only God can fix it
  5. So I said yes
  6. He’s fixing it
  7. In a single moment, I realized it was only by God’s grace that I was able to say yes or even to realize it
  8. God is making all things new

There is no other story: the only things that change are the particulars. The only thing that happens ever is Jesus makes all things new. He doesn’t undo them, he doesn’t remove them. He doesn’t fix them. In a single moment, he makes it so all roads lead to him. Later you realize, as my Mom says, “He never let go of your hand.”

To the Garden


MY BELOVED has gone to the garden
singing hymns sadness
in darkness weeping
and he falls
and he cries out
and I run from him
Bleeding sweat
Another kisses him
Taking him away

My beloved has gone to the garden
Seeing him hanging
between the trees
and he gasps
and he cries out
and I dare not go to him
strange fruit
Another pierces him
and goes away

My beloved has gone to the garden
A stranger with him
sings prayers
And he wraps him
and he kisses him
and I would go to him
if I could
Laying there
the darkness
Comes in light

7LW: שמע


Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

WITHIN THE JEWISH TRADITION the last prayer one says before dying is called the Shema (or Sh’ma) :

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ יי אֶחָֽד

Hear, Israel, the Lord our God: the Lord is one.

The recitation of this line of scripture, along with some other passages of scripture form the keystone in both the morning and evening prayer services of the Synagogue liturgy. Additionally, it is traditional to recite it just as one is going to bed and, as noted, as the last breath before death.

Before one says the Shema, one says a prayer called the Vidui. It’s a confession of sin and an acknowledgment that, before God, one is entirely without merit. It’s a prayer for mercy and grace in death. Although many of the modern versions include the verse “into thy hands…” it was not always so. In the 16th Century, the “Code of Jewish Law” (Shulchan Aruch) does not have this in the “official” Vidui. And, even in the modern versions that include that verse, it’s in the middle of the prayer – not at the end. And, again, the final thing said is the Shema.

All of that by way of saying that I find Our Lord’s choice of final words to be interesting in that it’s not the Shema. It’s something else.

As I mentioned in the last post in this series, we are meant to rest in the bosom of the Son as the Son rests in the Father. We are all called to this intimacy. The theological description of the Son resting in the Father and of the Holy Spirit proceeding is Perichoresis (from two Greek words meaning “around” and “to go, or come”) or Circumincession (from Latin). It’s often rendered as interpenetration. (Pardon me for ranting a bit: There is a modern etymology that incorrectly links the Greek root words with the word for dancing. This, however, is not valid and is more akin to the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding finding Greek roots for english words or other such bad scholarship such as is found in certain branches of religious studies. End of Rant.) ANYWAY… Perichoresis. When Jesus prays that Christians should be one even as he and the Father are one (John 17:22), this is part of what he means. When he prays that we should be in him (and him in us) as he is in the Father (John 17:23) it’s also talking about perchoresis or circumincession. We move together, we move through and with each other and – my ranting aside – it is rather like dancing when you think about it.

This is what he means when he hands over his Spirit to the Father – this unity, this circumincession. And that brings us back to the beginning.

In saying “Father into thy hands…” instead of merely reciting the Shema, he did it.

7LW: What’s Finished?


This essay is an edited version of last year’s post. I seem to be. on the same track this year.

It is finished.

Perelandra Is CS Lewis’ brilliant and engaging meditation on the Fall. It takes place on Venus in the 1940s where God is making a new race of persons and they are again being tempted to fall away from him. The action plays out through human mediation: God sends an earthman there to act for good since an earthly scientist is already going there in a spaceship, unwittingly to act as the agent of evil. I say “unwittingly” because the scientist believes in nothing: neither good nor evil. The good man sent, Dr Ransom, is a believer in Christianity but it’s not the Christian faith he’s sent to bring to Venus. Over the course of the novel, Ransom actually plays out more of the role of St Michael than of Christ, defending the Venusian Eve from the wickedness and snares of the devil (being mediated by the scientist). Thus, provided with a tempter and a defender, Eve, must undergo the trial and make her choices. No real spoilers here, but there are deep thoughts in the book about what humanity would have been like without The Fall or the need for redemption.

Man is created in God’s “image and likeness”. What does this mean? The Church Fathers have tossed the question back and forth, all the while acknowledging that we are fallen now so we cannot know for certain what it would have been like before. But there are some key signs: like our creator we have Free Will, meaning we can submit to God. Like our creator we, too, are creators. These hallmarks are damaged in the fall. There is a third, I think, and Lewis draws it out fully in Perelandra. As Children of one divine Father, we are meant to be in as intimate communication with him as God the Son is with his Father, offering back our love in the communion of the Holy Spirit and participating in the Divine life, even as we have our own, individual actions and lives here.

We are meant to rest in the bosom of the Son as the Son rests in the Father. We are all called to this intimacy. In the Fall our ability to do so is lost. We hear other communications, other voices – of our passions, from the world around us, from our fallen affections and sex drives, our desires, and temptations. Our communication skills are so damaged that many of us hear those other voices and assume they are god. Some hear those other voices and don’t think of them as divine but follow them anyway. Even the devout are torn: we cannot hear the will of God as easily as we can talk to a friend in Slack or Zoom.

We are lost. We don’t hear God (or we think we do when it’s only an “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”). Our creative skills turn inward to make golden idols, and our free will is damaged so that we usually pick the wrong things. Yet, God loves us. God dies for us.

It is finished.

This sometimes gets played up like it might mean the debt for our sins is paid by Jesus, or that our redemption is accomplished here – when it’s not: the resurrection and the ascension are both part of our salvation-in-process. Even the second coming is part of the working out of our salvation. Yes, the blood of Christ saves us, but not from some cosmic debt we cannot pay, so God paid himself by his own blood.

It is finished. What? Fr John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death offers an extended meditation on this question: What is finished? He follows the Patristic tradition as does CS Lewis’s work. The Greek word rendered as “finished” gives the clue: Τετέλεσται tetelestai, fulfilled – brought to its proper conclusion or use.

Adam and Eve were not yet adults in the Garden. All of human history was thrown off by, in essence, two teens letting their hormones get the best of them. Think Romeo & Juliet as not a romance but rather, “two teens disobey their parents, do what they shouldn’t do and a lot of people die”. The Garden is not about two adults making choices, it’s about two kids failing to grow up. And we have been only children ever since. You can’t pass on what you don’t have: all of world history has been written by adolescents unable to mature.

The Cross is God dragging us out of puberty into adulthood, bringing us to our Telos. We can freely decide to keep running around doing whatever we want but now we have the option to reconnect to God. To open our hearts to the same level of intimacy enjoyed by the Son with his Father, to have our creativity restored to its rightful use to glorify God, to have our passions put in right order, to have God as our Father, not just our creator. We have the option to grow up.

To be and to be in communion are the same thing: in Christ we have communion restored with each other and with God. We can run away, but we have, now, the option, to become fully human.

It is finished: we’ve been reconnected, rewired. We now have our freedom to respond. Time to grow up, to reach our telos which is only possible through the cross.



I thirst.

T HIS SIMPLE REQUEST of Jesus pulls many into theological arabesques. What is Jesus thristing for? For our faith! For our love! For souls to heal and bring to heaven! None of that is in the text, of course: they arise from meditation on the text as does this essay. Jesus, having hung on the cross for three hours, having been tortured and up all night gave voice to a simple need. It’s not far-fetched to imagine he’s slightly delirious. What is a bit of a surprise is that someone responded to his request. I know it’s a prophetic sign, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove that it’s a sign of anything important.

I thirst.

It’s a root complaint in our world. You can fast for a long while, but you need to drink often. It’s so ingrained that drinking a lot of water can help you fast from food! “You’re not really hungry,” you say to yourself. “Have some water.” Good tap water goes a long way, but something sour (like vinegar and gall) makes it taste much nicer, and makes it all that much more satisfying. There needn’t be anything mystical going on here. The Early Christians recorded this because it happened. Jesus actually said these lines. God said this while dying.

“I thirst,” said God as he was dying.

Having simple, human needs is one thing that God does. Dying is something that God does.

Have you seen how beautiful this world is? I mean really? Yes, there is beauty in a shot of San Francisco Bay from the side of Russian Hill, especially at dawn. But there is beauty in a decayed leaf, or a collapsing squash. Stars collapsing, maggots on corpses, and even ancient skeletons (and by extension, our own) all have their own beauty. A stary night, a rainy afternoon, a Haboob, or a tornado all reveal an intense beauty that – once experienced – leaves us wanting more.

Who among the readers of these pages have one delicacy that they imagine that they would love to eat forever? Fried fish, chocolate mousse, avocado toast, lattes, caviar, fritos with cheese sauce, biscuits and gravy, or caramel corn?

In moments of deepest intimacy or near-spiritual elation, who does not wish to remain there?

I Thirst.

Each beauty of our world, each joy, each taste, even each pain, calls from us a visceral response. We are called up and out of ourselves and yet – at that same moment – we are nailed deeply in our souls, rooted in ourselves. We are one with all things and yet isolated, alone, me. There is a moment there where I thirst becomes our own cry. We thirst for more of whatever it is and we are sorry when it has passed without slaking our thirst, our need.

These moments – even the ones that hurt – pull us towards the possibility that there is something more, something that we are craving constantly – even though we cannot name it. We can get caught in a constant round of trying to satisfy our thirst here, in this world. Every dawn over the Bay is beautiful and I have been fully blessed to see dawn here for 25 years. Dawn has happened for millenia continuously on this revolving world. But we want it again.

We thirst for more.

Jesus is that more. All of it poured out filling hearts. Jesus is the more for which we thirst. The greatest beauty, the highest joy, the deepest love is only a sip, a drop of moisture, a hint of the fullness that is Jesus.

We thirst

And in eternity we may find the slaking of that thirst.

7LW: Woman


Woman, behold your son.Behold Your Mother.

WE HAD A GUEST show up at our homeless ministry. It was her first time. She seemed a little out of it. She seemed more than a little confused. We fed her. Then we closed our doors, as we do at a certain time, and folks left. Guests usually sit at our outdoor tables until Noon or so, so we don’t worry about it. It’s sunny and nearly 85 today. An hour later someone said there was a woman trying to go to the bathroom in our parking lot. So we go out and find her and say this can’t happen. And then we come inside and wonder why she didn’t ask for the restroom downstairs when we were serving folks.

Two hours later she was found still outside in our parking lot… and we walk out to see what was happening. In her slow shuffle, she got to the fence. And called to people outside on the sidewalk. They assumed she was asking for money, but it was something else. We softly directed her through the gate and she asked for help. It dawns on us that she was mostly blind, making her way but suddenly trapped in a strange new parking lot that was surrounded by fences, unable to feel her way out. She wasn’t out of it at all. She wasn’t confused: she wasn’t able to see.

Once we got her on the sidewalk, she practically ran: no shuffle. Back in the world she knew and heading home. I had to run to keep up with her!

Walking back to the office John and Mary came to mind. There is your mother. There is your son.

7LW: Feelings


My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken me.

CAN GOD FORSAKE HIMSELF or can he be forsaken by himself? It always seems that this verse gets called out to prove that Jesus didn’t see himself as God – or that the earliest Christians didn’t see him as God. Then, sometimes, this verse gets thrown around to say the Father somehow abandoned Jesus as if the eternal Trinal Unity of God could sever himself and leave part of himself behind.

Was Jesus abandoned?

The Liturgy of Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox Christians replies loudly NO. At Pascha (Easter) they sing:

In the tomb with the body, in hades with Thy soul as God, in paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, wast Thou, O boundless Christ, filling all things.

At one moment in the Grave, in Hades, in Paradise, on the Heavenly throne. Even the incarnation itself did not part God from himself. The arc of salvation is the Messiah “filling all things”.

So what happened on the Cross?

The Incarnation is a mystery of the faith. The kenosis or self-emptying of the Son is one of the actions of his love for us. In this, he follows what he sees the Father doing: self-emptying to the Son. The Son self-emptying to us.

However, there’s another element here, for the manhood of Jesus was equally real and fully present. Our Lord and Saviour was not only the Divine Logos but also fully human. The feelings of that man are real, are fully human just like yours or mine. To use a sort of psychobabble, his feelings are valid. Jesus said, “I will do this for you” and the resultant feelings are real. Our feelings matter, too: not just our flesh, not just our spirit. Even though he was never abandoned, even though he was always “on the throne with the Father and the Spirit” Jesus’ emotions told him, “this sucks…”

And so, also, with us.

There are times when I can know in my head (even in my heart) that each thing that participates in beingness is doing so through God’s actions. Were I ever abandoned by God I would no longer be. The very act of being alone – which I cannot initiate or sustain – is proof of my being with God. I can know that. But my emotions can run another way, can turn against me can demand I cry out.

My God, why have you abandoned me?

Jesus knew this feeling and, here on the Cross, this feeling is elevated to a Divine state, to one of salvation in process. Your feeling of abandonment can be offered to God, and can even be celebrated as a participation in the passion of Christ.

You can – like Jesus – even blame them on God. This is the point, actually. Our feelings are not sins and yet they are very real. It’s what we do with them that is crucial. As Jesus said in the garden, “If it is possible, please take this away from me… but not my will. Rather, Father, may your will be done.” So he says here, “I feel abandoned. But I’m still trusting you, Father.” That should be us: and yet it takes a lot of faith to do it. If we find ourselves trying to pull away – letting our feelings get the better of us – we need to turn it all over to God again. But our feelings then become our Cross. We’re called to bear our cross including our feelings, but even if we fall under them we need to keep going.

Today there is a great drive to give into our feelings which largely means to run away from pain and things we’re afraid of.

Instead, Jesus calls us to be crucified on them.

7LW: Messy


Behold Your Mother.

BY WAY OF disclaimer, this admission: Pope Francis has stepped out to consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and this seems to me a good thing. As the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the whole world is his See, and he can make Eucharist with all that is his – as each servant of Christ is called to do. By that confession or what follows I hope that my opinion of the sitting Patriarch of Moscow would become clear as well.

Some think that the consecration will result in some sort of “automagical” end to the war or maybe some other apocalyptic event. But I think not. This event reads as the Pope asserting pastoral authority over a people seemingly abandoned by their own Pontiff, who, by throwing himself into the vanguard of someone we think of as a political bad actor, seems to have offered not only a pinch of incense to Caesar but also turned traitor against his own brethren in the name of that same Caesar. The sitting Patriarch of Moscow deserves to be removed from office if you ask me. The Holy Father is doing what he can, short of declaring the See of Moscow to be vacant – an act which neither side of the Great Schism has ever done. If you’ve never noticed: neither Rome nor Constantinople has ever tried to elect a successor to the See of the Opposition. There’s no Catholic Ecumenical Patriarch and no Orthodox Bishop of Rome. (This tacit agreement to let each other run their own show is a huge sign of hope to me!)

Orthodox Bishops around the world have made it clear that they reject the Patriarch’s actions. But, in doing so, they reveal to the west how messy Orthodox Ecclesiology can be. Yet – the rule of glass houses applies here – what makes this action any different from how certain bishops and priests reject our Holy Father as either too liberal, too conservative, or too vague? Rejoicing because secular politics is ripping up the Church is not a good look for us. Taking sides in a dispute internal to the Orthodox Church seems tone-deaf on our part, or else imperialistic: do we want them to fall apart?

The Pope is giving Russia and Ukraine – and by proxy all of us – a call to behold your Mother. Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Yet the Pope is also unveiling (the real meaning of apocalypse) exactly how messy the Church is. As Mary is our Mother, so also is the Church. If the Pope is calling us to see one, we must see the other as well. Spiritually the Church is a spotless bride adorned as for her wedding. But. Look. Let’s be honest: to human eyes, the Church can be more like Stella Dallas than Stella Maris.

When I left the Episcopal Church, I looked briefly at the Catholic Church but thought I saw many of the same problems I was fleeing in ECUSA: sexual issues, feminism, bad theology, wonky liturgy. The Orthodox Church seemed a safe haven. I needed to be there for 3 years or so before I saw my mistake. After 10 years there the Apocalypse had shown sexual abuse, issues around the understanding of sex and the two human genders, wonky theology and ecclesiology, and even a form of the Liturgy Wars. Hearing of the sexual antics of monastics in a monastery I had – pardon me – idolized even before I became Orthodox was the last straw in a lot of ways. As news of the sex scandal breaks (over and over, it seems) and as political infighting becomes the main soundtrack, maybe casting it all aside seems like a good idea. But that would be to betray our divinely appointed mother.

This post is not about the scandal that may thus arise any more than it’s about Putin’s ecclesial shenanigans. It’s about our mother, the Church.

And she’s a bit messy. You may even say tawdry. She’s filled up with mere human beings who are all sinners. Left to our own devices she’s bound to end up with a torn dress, with bruised muscles, with a black eye now and then.

But she’s trying very hard to get sainthood out of us anyway.

The consecration of Russia and Ukraine – and all of mankind – to the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin is a reminder that while we have a mother here on Earth we have a pure mother in Heaven as well. One who prays for us, one who sits at the side of her son offering intercession for us along with all the saints; and through her Son to the Father. The Church Militant is both an expression of her intercession as well as a foretaste of what Mary is. Only by God’s grace can we move there, only by God’s grace can she – the Church – move there. The process of ecclesial reform is first and foremost the process of making each of us holy. We cannot fix the Church – she fixes us – and when we are healed so will she be. We are the Church. Those public sins we did not commit damaged souls as surely as the private ones we did.

Behold your mother: she’s a bit of a mess but she has one thing to do. She’s going to get you holy and, by a grace-filled sort of transubstantiation, when you are holy she will be too.

Sonnet XVI: Harrow


Alone by Abraham he watching stands
And turns to John the Cousin as they smile
Isaiah grins at Moses laughing while
Judith and Esther wait in garland bands

Now righteous pagans rise to hear the trial
Lao tzu has joined him and Gautama too
The final stanzas of hells songs are through
And yawning gapes the maw of death most vile

As light breaks open hades darkened rue
And angels chaining demons part the throng
Comes Jesus here to one for whom he’s long
Been grieving. Joseph, Daddy, chaste and true

And riven hell releases hist’ry’s clans
As Son and Abba weep ore claspéd hands

7LW: Father


This is the final post in a series on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.

Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

WITH GOD AS OUR Father brothers all are we.” That’s a line from the 1955 song Let There be Peace on Earth, composed by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller. It’s a bit treacly, but it was intended for a children’s choir so that’s ok. It’s the Father line I want to call out. Man is created by God. In that respect, God is our Father as Geppetto can be said to be the father of Pinocchio. God is the Father, in this respect, of all creation: all of existence is equally from the hand of the same God. It matters not if you believe in creationism or some form of theistic evolution where God tends us as we evolve. God is the source of all that is, and so a Father. This is certainly no scandal at all. Addressing the Creator as Father is a concept going way back. In some cultures it’s not only the creator that gets this title, it’s every “elder being” if you will, or anything higher up the spiritual food chain.

Jesus’ experience of God as Father was different though. The clergy and people who came to hear him talk called him out on this. John 5:18 says, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” To use a modern phrase, they saw what he did there. This became a stumbling block for both Jews, who felt it blasphemous against monotheism and, later, for Gentiles who while allowing deities to have children, felt the child of a peasant stock who died a traitor to Ceasar and a common criminal was clearly not one of The Family. But, dear reader, this is not the real scandal, nor even that we Christians worship this dead criminal.

We claim that through this dead criminal we, too, have the same relationship to God. The theological term is “filiation” or “son-becoming”. When the spirit of Christ resides in us we call God by a personal name, Abba. Not a title, not a status, but by relationship which we enjoy by participation in the Body of Christ. That is a scandal. We actually claim a relationship that others – who place themselves outside of the Body of Christ – do not have. We claim kinship with God.

And so this prayer of Our Lord, Father, into thy hands..., must become our prayer at every moment. Over and over we must commend to the Father ourselves and one another and all our lives as the Byzantine Liturgy phrases it. This last word must be our first word and, indeed, our only word. The more we pray it the more we must make use of it to pray it all the more: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

Spirit here is the Greek word, πνεῦμά, pneuma and it gets used twice in this verse, although we miss it because we’re not reading the Greek. The last word in the verse is ἐξέπνευσεν exepnusen he “breathed his last” one might also render it “he spirited his last” and I think St Luke intends us to hear it both ways at the same time. Jesus is not handing over his “ghost” to the Father: the Son and the Father aspirate the Holy Spirit between them. Jesus is disconnecting here. And he will sink into hell itself to free us all.

We are called to render every breath to God the Father, through the Son (in whose body we participate) in the communion of the Holy Spirit. We are made sons in Christ not as mere creations but as Children of our Heavenly Father.

Sin is a damage to this relationship. I was listening to Gomer and Dave talk about this topic in their episode on Divine Filiation. Gomer pointed out that we’re so used to thinking of Sin as a breaking of a rule: venial sins are little rules, mortal sins are big rules. But sin is a shattering of this relationship of son-ness with Father. It destroys us, literally, as sons of God. We do this in other ways in our culture too: we “identify” as things that are not what God made us to be. In fact, we deny science to do this, and make stuff up. But our pretend “identities” are not who God can save: God can only save who we are, and can only raise us to what he intends us to be: the body of his Son. Our venial sins may never add up to one mortal sin, but they damage us too, our perceptions, our minds, our spiritual vision, can no longer see the road before us. And we all the more easily fall into mortal sin, then.

So every action: every breath you take, every move you make… every step you take must be rendered to God. Into thy hands I commend…