The Fifth Word is Thirsty (V)

Time moves faster than ever, I’ve noticed. Until a decade ago, my life moved to the rhythm of the academic calendar: work hard until spring or fall break, then work hard until the end of the semester.

When I had my daughter, life took on a less predictable rhythm. No longer was time divided into fall, spring, and summer terms. Raising a child doesn’t come with a handy end-point every four months; she was not a stack of papers to be graded. Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night, just trying to remember what month it was. Since she’s in elementary school, I’m back to the predictable comfort of a school calendar again.

Still, something strange happens every April. Things fall apart. Library books go unreturned, payments slip my mind, appointments are missed, laundry piles up, and my phone is misplaced even more than usual. April is the new May. So, as the calendar soon turns to April, I can only brace myself. Having buckled down since August, by late April, my ability to remember stuff is depleted.

Used up.

Drained.

Emptied out.

My word for the year is kenosis, a Greek word meaning “self-emptying.” Lately I feel fairly kenotic by 9:30 p.m. every night. But the only reason I know this word is from Paul using it to describe Jesus becoming human: “he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

From the cross, when Jesus says, “I’m thirsty,” his willing emptiness is dramatically manifest. Imagine, the source of living water dangerously dehydrated. When the soldier pierces his body with a spear, a stream of blood and water flow to the ground. Thus the self-emptying–a divine depletion that began with birth in a lowly manger–culminates here on a humble cross.

In “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” eighteenth-century psalmist Isaac Watts wrote:

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

This outpouring, Watts seems to say, isn’t just blood and water but sorrow and love, love and sorrow.

When Jesus says he is thirsty, he just needs a sip of water. Bystanders give him a sip of sour wine instead. In this self-emptying he gives up so much—water, lifeblood, glory—and dies with needs unmet.

While constraints and obligations of daily life can feel draining, Jesus’ self-emptying means much more. He relinquished his grandeur to become one of us, then poured out the rest in mingled love and sadness, blood and water. And though he did not die of thirst, he died thirsty.

the fifth wordNote from Em In January and February, I took a dive into a tradition that was, until recently, unfamiliar to me: Jesus’ Last Words from the cross, also known as the Sayings of Jesus on the cross. These seven phrases are taken from all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Woven together, they form a cohesive narrative of Jesus’ final hours. Books I read include Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas, Echoes from Calvary edited by Richard Young, Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe, In the Shadow of the Cross by Stephen C. Rowan, Seven Last Words by Fr. James Martin, and Friday Afternoon: Reflections on the Seven Last Words by Neville Ward. The seven posts I’m writing during Lent are my reflections on the Last Words. Enjoy.