The senses awaken: a whisper in the air, "spring is almost come," and the smell. Dirt writhes with worms, flowers burst to life.
My mind goes back. I see a cross.
And hanging there, a man looks back at me.
Or maybe he's not looking directly at me. His eyes seem distant--deadened by pain and heartbreak
My first instinct is to help him, although soldiers guard the condemned, and his mouth would be three feet out of reach even if I did make it to the cross. I see a soldier wrap a dirty rag around the end of a branch. Perhaps he was listening, too.
The soldier dips the rag into a wooden bucket. He twists it in there.
I wave my arm at the soldier. He doesn't see me.
I cry out--he doesn't understand a word I say--"That's not what he meant!" I call.
I think I finally understand what Jesus means by that. The cry, "I thirst," echoes back through his ministry to the very beginning.
A Wedding Feast
"I thirst." The cry comes not from the Master, but from the banquet table. Servants exchange fearful glances. The wine is all gone. Only the empty casks remain in the storeroom. Casks for water. Water for cleansing. Cleansing for washing up, after the wine is all gone.
"I have an idea." Mary hurries from the empty room.
She returns. With Him.
"Fill the casks with water," he says. We fill. We pour. Out comes wine.
"I thirst," the voice calls again from the banquet hall.
A servant picks up one of the casks and carries it away. Soon there is laughter, the clatter of cups, the bombast of toasts as the Master returns to the feast.
"I thirst," the Master urges a woman.
The woman looks surprised. She pulls back her headscarf. Sunlight shows darker skin, alien features. "You're not asking someone like me for water, are you?"
He is. He thirsts, but so does she.
And in response to a cup of water, this Master who thirsts offers her--offers me--"living water...welling up to eternal life" (John 4.10, 13).
This man who hangs. This cross. This man who says, "I thirst."
And is this all? The writer of John, the one who sends Jesus out eating and drinking among those who hunger and thirst (there is a meal in every chapter, it seems, and the last meal--the Last Supper--stretches out over five chapters), it isn't just he who notices--it is more than him who records these deeds.
The Upper Room
"I will thirst."
The Master holds out a cup as he says this. He takes a sip and passes the cup around the table. "Truly I tell you, I will not drink of that fruit of the vine until that day I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14.25).
The wine is new. Made bitter, though. "It's blood," the Master says. "My blood, poured for many" (verse 24). Poured out for me.
My God! Wine poured out for me--and yet, "I thirst." They're his words. Not mine!
And he waits. To drink. Again. With me.
"I'm not thirsty!"
Face down in the garden, Christ pleads.
"Daddy!" he cries out. His eyes are closed. Tears escape them. One sees blood.
"Everything is possible for you." He groans. "Take this cup from me" (Mark 14.36).
It stays. With him.
The cup--it stays. It is poured out. Refilled, it is poured again, hour after hour, drop after precious drop of water...turned to wine...turned to blood...on that cross.
So when he says, "I thirst," on that cross--
To my mind, he's thinking of the garden--of a moment of weakness, of the fear of separation that haunted Gethsemane's shadows.
It isn't a parched tongue that cries out. It's a triumphant spirit.
He isn't asking a question. He's making a statement.
He isn't addressing an executioner. He's telling God,
It is the cup he takes back, not a bitter rag that reeks of spoiled vinegar, the one from the garden.
The one from the upper room, the one that pours out mercy at every Communion feast.
The one that poured living water in Samaria, wedding wine in Cana: the cup that never will run dry.
He took it back. With two words, "I thirst," Christ took that cup and drank
A couple of notes:
- This post was inspired by my remarkable pastor, Jeff Streszoff, whose sermon series "The Last Words of Christ" has blessed my church throughout Lent.
- The image is one I found through Google Images. I didn't pay for it, nor did I profit from it, but the artist deserves credit. If you're looking for high-quality photography or video, check out Gate5 Films.