Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Sounds a lot like…
Father forgive them–they know not what they do
My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?
It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
The first–yep, bedtime sleepy prayer. I bet you’ve heard it at least once before someone tucked you into bed. But the second? These are known as the Seven Words of the Cross. When we look at all four views of the crucifixion we see Jesus saying several different things to different people–the writers of the gospel emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ time on the cross–so, yes, the second is a compilation of different gospel accounts–but it’s all the same person on the same day.
But how in the world are Jesus’–Father, into your hands I commit my spirit–anything like “Now I lay me down to sleep? Well, I guess there is that line…if I should die before I wake…
Context. Little children are taught this bedtime prayer pretty early on. It rhymes, which helps with memorization, it’s short, and we cover a lot of ground–ya know, making sure Jesus counts our souls as his–just in case something bad happens while we’re sleeping.
Context. Whips. Flogging. Crown of thorns. Beatings. Mockery. Separation from all friends. False accusations. Excommunication from the religious community. Walking to a hill carrying a giant log on your back. Falling. Listening to the wailing women as you pass them by. Alone. Forsaken by God–forsaken by men. Suffering. This is not peaceful. This is not a bedtime story, this is not a bedtime prayer. The act of crucifixion served as an example for those who rebeled against the holy hand of Rome.
My pastor, in his Good Friday sermon, told us he didn’t want to talk about the darkness of the cross that day–but instead wanted to reassure us of the plan of salvation for our souls.
Back up…”Didn’t want to dwell on the darkness of the cross?” Well, if the Christian community ignores the pain and suffering of the cross throughout the year…well, that’s one thing. But ignoring the cross even on Good Friday? When then, are we to feel Christ’s anguish and express that we too are suffering, forsaken, and dying & alone?
Pastor went on to say that Jesus was saying a “bedtime” prayer of sorts while on the cross–by saying “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” Jesus was in fact dying a peaceful death, knowing that his Father would keep his soul and spirit well cared for.
By telling us Jesus was saying a bedtime sleepy prayer at the time of his death seems to imply two things:
1. Jesus’ death was not nearly as exhausting or painful as we make it out to be. (If this is true…read the Gospel According to Mark.)
2. Going to bed at night is a hell of a lot scarier than we originally thought.
The point of the Incarnation–and the reality of the crucifixion does not seem to imply the premiere of the original “bedtime prayer.” Jesus is not dying like a young child going to bed. The Incarnation shows all of humanity that this God is different. This God sympathizes, knows and feels our kind of pain. He cried out when he felt alone and forgotten. He died naked and with his followers, friends & family crying helplessly, or fleeing completely.
Because God came down to touch earth–we can lament our brokenness, injustice, fear–we are allowed to call out when we can’t see or feel God doing anything. Ignoring the suffering of the Christ on the cross means we have to ignore our own present suffering–and ignore the suffering of those around us.
Yet, even at that moment, when his blood mixed with water from his lungs, his head, hands and entire body emptying itself on the ground, when he was least recognizable because of his beatings and broken body–We come to this moment, this person, this servant king, the slaughtered Lam. We pour out our own bodies of blood and water and with dying strength we lift our palm branches once again and utter–Hosanna, “the Lord saves.” For the Word of God has given us life, God has touched humanity. And with his dying breath he has called all people–all creation–to his side…to be washed by the blood and water that pours forth and falls to the ground.
This is not a bedtime prayer. This is the reality of God embracing the creation that has been broken–by this embrace God kisses the sting of sin, the lash of injustice, the crushing force of brokenness, and what shall we say of death? Could a bedtime sleepy prayer overcome the hand of death?