Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. (John 19:28-29)
On this day, Good Friday, we read John’s account of the Passion, Christ’s crucifixion, and only in John’s account do we find this little phrase: “I am thirsty.” Here at the end of the narrative after Jesus’ betrayal, trial, beatings, and crucifixion, when the end had finally arrived John makes a note of this final request. A phrase so easy to skim over in our rush to the end of the story.
There is a particular devotion occasionally observed on Good Friday during the Three Hours known as the Sayings or the Last Words of Christ on the Cross. It is a liturgy that brings together all four gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion and his last words. Each word or phrase has traditionally been given title or a distinction. “I am thirsty” is the word of distress or suffering. How can this be the word of suffering and not something more striking like “God why have you forsaken me?” How can the God who created the rivers and seas, calms storms, walks on water and offers the Living Water be thirsty?
I think we try to romanticize the crucifixion, clean it up, distance ourselves from the violence and realities or at least rush past it on our way to Easter. But today — Good Friday — it is true to say that at a specific time and place God died. Let us pause and enter into His suffering and into the cosmic grief of the death of Jesus.
This deceptively simple phrase was spoken in the midst of excruciating physical pain: death by suffocation and dehydration, the nails shredding his skin into tatters, and wounds tearing further the longer he hangs on the cross. Perhaps it is its simplicity that allows us to enter into this story. Though thirst may be a mere shadow of his harrowing torment, who among us has not experienced thirst?
How truly he is human! He is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” Christ does not exempt himself from the pain and loss of this world, even death. His divinity did not numb his body, did not take away his pain or his thirst. No, indeed, Christ fully lived into the mystery of suffering. And it is a mystery. Suffering is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery we live into. Christ went to the cross, knowing what was before him, what agony, what separation, what pain, what thirst, and willingly drank from the cup given to him. The cup he submitted to take. One he took in faith that God is good. The cup of his suffering is the cup of our salvation.
On this particular Good Friday we may enter more easily into the grief and suffering of Christ. Our souls parched in the sickness, isolation, uncertainty and death around us. Today we come not only to meet Christ in his pain but He meets us in ours as well. Today we share a kinship with Him. Today we come and taste and see the pain, the agony, the thirst. For it truly makes him the friend we’ve always longed for: the friend who knows, understands, and experiences all we have. He in all ways is Immanuel, Christ with us.
May we glory in the cross of Christ,