6th Word From the Cross: ‘Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit’
Carved Upon the Hands of God
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It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. (Luke 23:44-48)
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
There are many diabolical aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. One of them is that the washing of hands has now become the most important public health duty. Nothing wrong with that from a hygiene point of view, but it must bring a sinister smile to Satan that the great symbol of evading responsibility is now the responsible thing to do. Pilate washed his hands but could not rid himself of the guilt. Shakespeare would use Lady Macbeth to teach us the same lesson.
In that 1980 Chrism Mass homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger which I quoted earlier, he preaches about the anointing of the priest’s hands in the rite of ordination:
There is perhaps no organ as much as the hand that so clearly shows the special place of man in the world: parted from the ground, it shows how man walks upright. We give and we take with our hands; we heal and hit with our hands. Among all peoples, men lift up their hands whenever they turn in prayer to him who is above them. Our hands are anointed. Our hands are bound in duty to the Lord. … Let us ask the Lord that this sign of the anointing of our hands may more and more be made real in our lives, that our hands may more and more be instruments of blessing, that through his mercy we ourselves may become a blessing and, thus, receive blessing.
[Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003) p. 101. The chapter is Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the Chrism Mass in Munich, April 2, 1980.]
How diabolical that the hands anointed to handle the Sacred Host may now carry a deadly virus so that Holy Communion might become unholy contagion!
How diabolical that hands anointed so that they might in turn anoint the hands of the sick person are now to be kept separated lest the promise of life eternal be accompanied by the peril of natural death…
How diabolical that the hands that bring comfort from a daughter to the face of her dying mother are now pressed only against the glass…
How diabolical that the hands once joined at the taking of wedding vows, promising the fidelity of the marriage bed, are now withdrawn at the deathbed…
How diabolical that the hands that bring healing from doctors and nurses now are kept idle at home in precautionary isolation…
How diabolical that the handclasp of friendship, the universal sign of peace, is now to be set aside, lest it be an act of hostility…
The most well-known image in the history of Christian art is the extended finger of Michelangelo’s God bestowing the gift of life upon Adam. The extended hand of God is the prophylactic prepared against the poison of Satan, who desires distance not closeness, enmity not friendship, isolation not communion.
For centuries Christian preachers have pondered upon what it means that, after his resurrection, the nail marks remain on the hands of the glorified body. The Risen Christ has scars. Archbishop Fulton Sheen preached often on the scars of God. The sacred hands are scarred hands.
Jesus commends his spirit into the Father’s hands. The scars on the hands of Jesus, the image of the invisible Father, remind us that God’s hands too have scars. The prophet Isaiah told us about them:
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
(Isaiah 49: 14-16)
The Sixth Word From the Cross thus answers the Fourth Word. Has the Lord forsaken us? No, he cannot, for our names are carved into the palm of his hand. The scars on God’s hands trace out the shape of our names.
Man washes his hands, trying to get rid of the dirt, the filth, the contagions, the viruses. He washes his hands to get rid of the blood. God keeps the open wounds in his hands, the wounds carved into those divine hands, so that we can see his saving blood.
And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.
What did they think when they returned home, conversing about the crucifixion? What do we think this Good Friday, celebrating the Passover of the Lord at home? We cannot venerate the Cross as we usually would in the church. So we look upon our crucifixes, comforted that the hands of God are wounded. We kiss them at home, for in the scarred hands of God we place our spirit. In the scarred hands of God we find salvation.
Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit
In your house I shall celebrate the Passover
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.