Posted by: N.S. Palmer | April 12, 2009

The Seven Words

By N.S. Palmer, Ph.D.

“Into Thy Hands I Commend My Spirit.”

Those are “The Seven Words” that Luke 23:46 tells us Jesus uttered as he died on the cross. This Easter weekend, radio stations have been burning up the airwaves playing Joseph Haydn’s composition based on that theme, even though the words are more appropriate to Good Friday, when Jesus died, than to Easter, when Christians believe he was resurrected.

But one need not be a Christian to find those words inspiring and encouraging. Abandoned by his friends and followers, dying in agony and apparently alone, repudiated and facing what most men would consider the worst possible catastrophe, Jesus said:

Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

Those are the words that inspired Haydn (1732-1809) to compose “The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross” (Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze). In his Bible, Haydn read those words in German:

Ich befehle meinen Geist in deine Hande.

Those are not words of death, but of life. They tell us of a God who commands us to love and help each other instead of hating and killing each other. When the original text of Luke’s Gospel was written in Greek, the author told us that Jesus said:

εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου.

Those words tell us that God made the world with a purpose and that we are part of that purpose. They answer the question asked by Psalm 8:4-5, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” They tell us that we are God’s very junior partners in creation. That our lives matter. That what we do in life makes a difference.

They tell us of a God Who knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Of a God Who loves us and cares about our well-being.

Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

With all due respect to Haydn, he left something out. The seven words are important, that’s true. But they’re part of a larger statement and a much bigger picture. What Luke actually tells us that Jesus said is:

Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

Father. That word tells us that God, the Creator of the universe and the Source of all life, is not remote, uninvolved, or uncaring. He is not the unmoved mover of Aristotle, the deus sive natura of Spinoza, or the “absentee landlord” of whom Al Pacino spoke in the film “Devil’s Advocate.” He dwells in our lives and in our hearts, in good times and bad, in our triumph and our loneliness, when we wake and when we sleep, when we are born into this world and when we leave it.

Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

This Easter day, and every day, let us remember those words and commend our own spirits to our Father in Heaven — not so that we can die, but so that we can live as the people we were meant to be. Let us remember the example of a man who was far better than we are, who told us to embrace each moment joyfully and use it for the best. Let us walk with God, as He walks with us.


Copyright 2009 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as copyright notice and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.


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