“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46.
This is the moment in the Passion when Jesus seems to be letting go. He accepts that there is nothing more for him to do, and he allows the Father to take over.
Simple enough. That is, if you think letting go of life is easy to do. But for most of us, it isn’t. Most of us do not go gently into the night.
To exercise the self-control necessary to let go of our most precious possession, life itself, and turn it over to God exceeds the powers of most of us. Letting go is not what we usually think of as control. Instead, we think of control as meaning that we have a tight grip on living. It is that illusion, that it is possible to have a tight grip on life, that makes death so hard.
All of us like to feel we are in control of our destiny, or at least have some major control over its direction. But there is one thing that no one truly has control over: The hour and means of our deaths.
No one, no matter how much money, intelligence, physical strength, or power he or she may have, is able to control the timing and manner of death. Some people who are facing death anyway have a limited control over how it happens. We can choose to jump out of a burning skyscraper or be burned inside of it, for instance. Some may consider suicide a way of controlling death, but people usually do not choose to commit suicide; they are forced into it by the pain of living.
Jesus, like everyone else, is not able to choose the moment of death, but he can choose to let go of living and peacefully accept it. It is a hard thing, to come to terms with the end. But it is a necessary thing, for anyone who wants to have anything approaching a good death.
To realize there is nothing left to do but to give up and accept death is not a defeat for a Christian. As Jesus shows here, to accept death in its finality is to accept God. This is faith at its most profound. Faith becomes the bridge from life to whatever lies beyond it. There is nothing beyond death except for God.
Jesus, being human, would not have known what was beyond his last moments any more than we do, but the example he sets shows that letting go of death is only possible by commending all to God. Jesus squeezes what little joy he has left in his last suffering hours — in excruciating pain, abandoned by his disciples, rejected by his own people — by placing all the trust he has left in God. It may have been the most courageous act of his last day.
For a complete list of links to the seven essays on this topic, please go here.