Crying out of thirst

April 19, 2011

On this Good Friday when we hear Jesus' dying words, "I thirst," we hear a painful last plea of human desire. As Jesus cried out from his anguish on the cross, we are reminded about the human vulnerability of a 33-year-old man, hanging by the nails that ripped his flesh. His desire was for something to quell, even just for an instant, the excruciating pain of the crucifixion.

His cry of thirst reminds us that water is one of our most basic physical needs -- without it we cannot survive. Peter Gomes, the Harvard chaplain who died just last month, reflected that during the long hours on the cross Jesus had been denied the most basic human dignity; that is, kindness.

It wasn't until Jesus cried out "I thirst" that, according to John's gospel, a solider offered him a hyssop branch drenched in a sour wine mixture of vinegar and water, which Jesus drank. Basic human dignity in response to a primary human need -- thirst -- and a soldier offering a single act of kindness.

Perhaps on Good Friday you feel as I do, yearning to help Jesus by offering a gesture of kindness to alleviate his suffering. I long to wipe the blood off his brow following the whipping; ache to help carry the cross up to Golgotha; and to lift up a branch of cool, refreshing, sustaining water as he cries out.

Of course, time and space prevents us from being at the cross on that day. However, the Gospel of Matthew offers us a way to respond to Jesus' cry on the cross. We are reminded that what we do to the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters we also do to him. When we give drink to the thirsty, we respond to Jesus' cry of thirst.

One of the earliest voices in the modern American environmental movement, Rachel Carson, said: "In an age when we have forgotten our origins and are blind to our most essential needs for survival, water has become the victim of our indifference." We are indifferent to the suffering cries of our brothers and sisters who need clean water. We are not unlike the crowd that stood at the foot of the cross, indifferent to Christ's need.

On this Good Friday as we contemplate the suffering on the cross, can you offer a branch filled with clean water to quell the thirst of the suffering?

No one told the solider to lift up the branch to Christ on the cross; rather it was his instinctive response to human suffering that made him act. As for me, my instinct has been to use less water, not fertilize my lawns and use less-toxic cleaning products. And I feel called to organize a church project to build a well in a developing nation. This is my branch being lifted up.

What are your instincts calling you to do? As we meditate on the cross, you are invited to reflect on how you are called to lift up a branch to answer our Redeemer's cry with acts that offer life-giving water to sustain a thirsty world.

A version of this meditation on the seven last words of Christ, focusing on the suffering of Christ and the suffering of creation, will be offered at an ecumenical Good Friday service at St. John's Episcopal Church in Waterbury, Connecticut.

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