Friday, April 14, 2017

Jesus as the Thirsty One: Brief Meditations on One of the Last Words of Christ

Water can be play, like hot city streets turned playground as children dance through the spray of hydrants drawn open. Water can be terror, just think of regions devastated by hurricanes, tsunamis, and massive floods. Water can be sacred symbol, as when sprinkled on the head of a child or a new believer submerged within through the sacrament of baptism.

Then there is water as drink. Yet, health studies have suggested 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. That is, we are a thirsty people. We do not take in enough water. Whether due to the of lack of access to clean water, various health conditions, or simply becoming lax to our bodies basic need, most Americans are unable to maintain healthy levels of hydration. 

To be thirsty is to become aware of a significant lack- something is not right.

In that sense, water is not the only thing we thirst for as a people. We know things are not right and well around us, and they have not been for quite some time.

We thirst for the easing of hostile rhetoric.

We thirst for the day when war is no more and weapons of war, terror, and violence, be they guns or chemicals, are no longer wielded.

We thirst alongside those who flee genocide, oppression, and civil war in search of safe refuge in foreign lands where just maybe their children can run and play without fear. 

We thirst for welcome.

We thirst for those who are literally thirsty from Flint, Michigan to regions throughout the developing world. 

We thirst for equal access to quality education for our children and the dismantling of a school-to-prison pipeline that puts young people of color and with disabilities at an increased risk for encounters with the juvenile justice system and incarceration as adults.

We thirst for gender equality in the work place and the rights of LGBTQI persons. 

We thirst for the end of hunger and poverty and a more balanced economy. 

We thirst for the end of chronic disease and pain. We thirst for safety in our schools. We thirst for belonging. We thirst for the end of conflict and stress in our most intimate relationships. 

We may even thirst for the church as we wrestle with our relevance and witness in the midst of the complexities of the twenty-first century and what seems to be constant identity crises. 

There is so much more that leaves us thirsty in a dehydrated world.

Then we hear the words of Christ upon the cross, “I thirst.”  While some like to highlight the Jesus in John as in full control, even dignified, there is no escaping the vulnerability of a dehydrated God longing for relief as he hangs nailed to a tree. Jesus as the thirsty one.  This may be good news for us- Jesus on the side of those who thirst for all we just named and more.  The Blessed One, thirsting for justice and righteousness.

There is also a level of irony in these words of Christ upon the cross, “I thirst.” This is the same Messiah who spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, "but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4). 

Yet Jesus says, "I thirst."

I can imagine the woman Jesus befriended at the foot of the cross that day. So much for the that spring of water gushing up to eternal life, she may have shouted out as she wept in fear, angst, and sense of abandonment that was an all too frequent element of her narrative.

As we come to the end of this Holy Week narrative, with all the realities of our nation, world, and personal lives, we may echo the same.  A thirsty God may lead us to wonder how long until, if ever, our thirst is truly quenched. 

Still I wonder, what was it that Jesus was thirsty for in his darkest of hours? Yes, there is the obvious answer of water. But, if you know anything about this Gospel, John is never about the obvious.

Was Jesus thirsty for relief from the pain as he remained there exposed and on the brink of death? Was Jesus thirsty for the easing of sorrow and fear he knew overwhelmed the hearts and minds of those he bid to follow? Was Jesus thirsty for the cup he knew only he could drink and thereby deliver the whole world? Was Jesus thirsty for the resurrection he knew was to come in just a few days? Was Jesus thirsty for God’s Dreams to come to fruition, when all creation would be made new and right again? 

Yes. These things Jesus surely thirsted for on that Good Friday. But we must go farther. For Jesus to say I thirst is to identify with those who lack. Jesus is on the side of those who thirst. It’s as if the Gospel writer is including his own variance of Matthew 25, “When did you see me thirsty and offer me a drink?"

In this sense, Jesus thirsted for us.  Jesus’ mission had reached its pivotal goal of Jerusalem and the cross and he thirsted for us to pick up where, as John writes, he had finished. Jesus thirsted for us, whom he prayed for, to be on the side of the thirsty ones.

Jesus thirsted for the waters of our baptism to drench our work in and for the world as we side with those most vulnerable in our neighborhoods.

Jesus thirsted for faith communities to extend solidarity and hospitality to those frequently relegated to the margins and labeled as other and less.

Jesus thirsted for the faithful to remain open and thirsty to new ways of being church alongside those searching for meaning and belonging.

Jesus thirsted for his people to advocate for victims of violence and their families thirsty for empathy and justice in the wake of another life taken.

Jesus thirsted for the faithful to organize alongside young people in at-risk communities thirsty for mentoring, direction, and assurance their lives matter even though the cards may be stacked against them.

Jesus thirsted for the end of racial and ethnic divides and varied –isms that plague us as a people.

Jesus thirsted for us to become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life in a dehydrated world- maybe even in how we care for creation.

So where do you thirst? May you find assurance that Jesus is on the side of the thirsty ones- blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

May you also recognize your thirst as the very awakening of the Spirit calling you to respond to the lack with fresh hydrations of the gospel near and far. As we do this together, we allow the living water to become in us the very springs of water gushing up to eternal life. We just may be quenching the thirst of a crucified Christ who comes to us in the face of our neighbors whom we are called to love and serve.  Amen.