by William Collins
I have been a representative of the Bahá’í community in Ventures in Community, an interfaith coalition in Fairfax County, Virginia, for about a decade, and was its co-facilitator for two and a half years. Pastor Abraham Smith of the First AME Church of Alexandria was a representative of his house of worship. We have been good friends serving those in need. He had periodically mentioned that he would invite me to speak at a Sunday service at his church. This was postponed several times. However, when the pastor was getting close to retirement, he told me he wanted me to speak along with six AME pastors at his church’s Good Friday service on the evening of April 15, 2022. The theme was the “Seven Last Sayings of Christ”:
- Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
- To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
- Woman, behold, thy son! Behold, thy mother!
- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
- I thirst.
- It is finished.
- Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Pastor Abraham asked that I prepare a “sermon” on the final one and “bring it on home.” He also gave me more time than those who spoke before me. I knew that the venue and the audience required a specific style and speak to the reality of Jesus Christ in His agonizing moments on the cross. For this reason, I wove Bahá’í Writings and concepts in a talk centered on the words and experience of Jesus at His crucifixion.
The congregation was largely online, with about 25 in person. I noted my trepidation at following so many talented preachers, but there was such support and encouragement from those present that it inspired me. We shared joy at the words we heard.
The Last Words of Jesus Christ: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit”
“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46)1*
As I prayed for inspiration to speak about Jesus’s final words, I ask Him to “Loose my tongue to laud Thy name amidst Thy people, that my voice may be raised in great assemblies and from my lips may stream the flood of Thy praise” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Bahá’u’lláh et al. 2002, 133). It occurred to me that the meaning of these last words was not bound by the moment in which they were spoken. He said, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” but that was not an act framed in wracking pain as He breathed His last, but rather in the triumph of His whole life and ministry. Jesus commended His Spirit to the Father at all times during His earthly life. When He was conceived, His Spirit was instilled by the Father. When He was born, He was brought forth by God’s hand. God protected Him from blood-drenched Herod. When He went into Egyptian exile, God fed and cared for Him. When He fulfilled His ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, God uplifted Him and called to Him disciples and crowds of the poor and dispossessed. And in betrayal and crucifixion, He knew and accepted that God’s will was stronger than any darts of doubt, any perils of persecution, any burning stones of betrayal, any fires of fear with which the spiritually blind and deaf targeted Him. He gave us, at every moment, the example of placing our whole lives in the care of the Father, not just at the end of life, but with every breath and every act, start to finish, in the knowledge that there is no suffering without a final triumph. Jesus’s life and suffering was not momentary grace. In these words, we find not only Jesus’s resignation to God’s will, but also our own courage to commend our spirits into God’s hand at every moment of our lives and live in accord with the will and wisdom of the one true God.
Here He teaches us: “Moral life consists in the government of one’s self. Immortality is government of the human soul by the Divine Will” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá quoted in Grundy 1979, 5). In the first phrase, the active agent is the individual. But it is in the second phrase, where the active agent is God, that He teaches us to become nothing and let God become all. In Paul’s letters, Jesus is described as the “image of God” and a “manifestation” of the Almighty, as in Hebrews 1:1-3 “God… Hath… spoken unto us by his Son…; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,… sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” and in 1 Timothy 3:16 “God was manifest” in Jesus.
Jesus is an ideal and flawless mirror. In that mirror, the pure illuminating brilliance of the Holy Spirit is perfectly reflected, giving us the reality of the Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ. And Almighty God, the central orb of the universe, is reflected in that perfect mirror through His warming and mighty rays of light. This is the “image” or “manifestation” of God – the Anointed One – in Jesus of Nazareth. The image of the sun is reflected perfectly in this mirror because we see the rays of the sun shining clear and undiminished within it. So I can say I see a mirror, I see the rays of the sun in the mirror, or I see the sun. Thus, in Jesus, I see a man; I see the Holy Spirit resplendent in Him; and I also see God, because in that perfect image I see God’s attributes fully manifested. What happens if the mirror is broken? Does it stop the sun from shining or the rays of the sun from giving their light and warmth? No!
When Jesus died on the cross, the mirror was broken: “affliction borne in the path of the King of Names is sweeter than honey and more delicious than a sumptuous feast” (Bahá’u’lláh 2022). But God, the glorious Day-star of the Kingdom, was not gone; and the Holy Spirit, the emanating rays of that sun, still shone. Into God’s hands, Jesus commended that Spirit, but it departed not. Instead it was destined in resurrection to shine with everlasting glory above the horizon of the world. Jesus said: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). What does this mean? When Jesus was born, he descended from heaven because the image within Him was the image of God sent down into the mirror of His being. While teaching through His words and actions, He was in Heaven, because His will was merged in the will of God and that image of the Almighty was manifest in Him. And in yielding up His life at crucifixion, the image reflected in Him still existed and ascended. Jesus’s reality descended from God, abided in God, and ascended to God without Jesus having to move physically. He “though delivered from the womb of [His] mother, … in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though [He was] dwelling on this earth, yet [His] true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, [He] soar[ed] in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet [He trod] the path of the spirit, and without wings [He rose] unto the exalted heights of divine unity.” (Bahá’u’lláh 2019, ¶74)
Where do we discover our courage to commend our spirits into God’s hand at every moment of our lives? Jesus powerfully modelled transformation through surrender in His prayer in Gethsemane. Mark tells us in his gospel (Mark 14: 32-36): Jesus withdrew three times to pray and beg His heavenly Father that He might not have to go through what He knew was coming. He was alone, scared, betrayed, and said “my soul is sorrowful unto death” (Mark 14:33). In other gospel accounts He wept and threw Himself to the ground in agony. But His prayers ended with total surrender to the will of God. In this, we can see so clearly the humanity of Jesus. He already knew He was doing God’s will in His life and ministry and now He faced an excruciating death. He was saying in effect, “Isn’t what I’ve already done enough, God? Now I have to do this too?” He said, “Father, take this cup away from me.” How often do we ask these same questions of God? But in the perfect model of surrender, He says, “not my will, but your will” (see Matthew 26:42). There can be no transformation or resurrection without surrender – both His and ours.
When Jesus addressed God as “Father” and commended His spirit to Him, it was both an end and a beginning: the End of a ministry; and the Beginning of a promise—His return as a thief in the night in the glory of the Father. In the Day of God, all things are made new, and the new Jerusalem appears, and the Kingdom of God within is visibly established: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The trumpets sound for those who have ears to hear, and the Lord is seen by those with eyes to see. I hear Jesus proclaiming: “It is for His sake that I adorned the cross with My body and then arose from the dead to perfect His remembrance amongst men.” (Bahá’u’lláh 2016a, ¶16.11)
Isaiah prophesies: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-2.4). “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God” (Isaiah 35:1-2)
Call out to Zion, O Carmel, and announce the joyful tidings: He that was hidden from mortal eyes is come! His all-conquering sovereignty is manifest; His all-encompassing splendor is revealed… Hasten forth and circumambulate the City of God that hath descended from heaven…. (Bahá’u’lláh 2016b, ¶1.4).
He commended His spirit into the hands of the Father, and yet He lives.
1* See also Psalm 31:4-5, of which Jesus’s final words were an echo: “Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.”
All quotations from the Holy Bible are from the Authorized (King James) version.
Bahá’u’lláh (2016a). Days of Remembrance: Selections from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh for Bahá’í Holy Days. Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre.
Bahá’u’lláh (2016b). Fountain of Wisdom. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing. Formerly titled Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
Bahá’u’lláh (2019). The Kitáb-i-Íqan: The Book of Certitude. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing.
Bahá’u’lláh (2022). “We have consented to bear the afflictions of the earth. . .”: provisional translation of a portion of a Tablet to the martyr Varqá. https://adibmasumian.com/translations/bh00022_excerpt/
Bahá’u’lláh; the Báb; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (2002). Bahá’í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. 2002 ed. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
Grundy, Julia M. (1979). Ten Days in the Light of `Akká. Revised edition. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.