The Way of the Cross: Darkness (Luke 23:44-46)

As we prepare for Easter, past and present Pepperdiners contribute reflections on Jesus’ journey to the cross. Today’s is from alumnus Jeff Partain.

Crucifix, Simon Toparovsky (Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles)

Luke 23:44-46 Jesus dies on the cross

Luke 23:44-46 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

I learned to pray as soon as I could speak. My parents prayed with me every night before I went to bed. I was encouraged to say the dinner prayer while still strapped in a high chair. I had memorized the Lord’s Prayer before I entered Kindergaten. But when I was a bit older I heard a bizarre prayer that many other children had memorized: “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.” What a disturbing thing for a young child to memorize!

But as I’ve studied and continued to read, I believe that this creepy prayer is a distant cousin of what young Jewish children were taught to pray hundreds of years before Jesus as they went to sleep: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Coming from Psalm 31:5, this psalm of David asks not just if we have faith in God, but if we truly trust Him. Not just if we believe in God, but if we depend on Him during times of absolute anxiety and uncertainty.

In his last moments of life, in his agonizing pain on the cross, Jesus returns to the prayer of his childhood. But notice the personal, intimate word that Jesus adds that was missing from David’s psalm: Father.

And Jesus doesn’t just whisper these words under his breath. Luke says that Jesus called out with a loud voice. Even with his last words, Jesus continues to teach to those who have ears to hear. Jesus had spent his life teaching us how to live: Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray like this, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven…’ Do this in remembrance of me.

And even at the moment of his death, Jesus is STILL teaching us how to live. If we commit our spirit to God at all times, what a life we can live. By entrusting our soul to God moment by moment, we CAN love God, we can love both our neighbors and enemies. With our spirit in the hands of God, we can do good to those who hate us.

In some versions of that strange childhood prayer, there is a final line that seems missing from the most common memorized version. It goes like this: “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. If in the morning light I wake, teach me the path of love to take.”

During this season of Lent and beyond, let us daily pray the prayer and live the lesson Jesus taught us with his dying words: Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.

Jeff (BA ’97, MA ’98) “is a high school English teacher, youth minister, husband, and father. He is in love with his wife, devoted to his children, obsessed with music, fascinated by literature, haunted by movies and is also a follower of Christ.” Jeff Partain writes so well and even more at Jeff Partain Writes, and can be found pointing out all kinds of great stuff on Twitter.

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