Though Good Friday is the most solemn day on the liturgical calendar, for much of my early life it was difficult for me to connect to Jesus and his experience, until my brother was diagnosed with cancer back when I was 19. My faith went through a wringer. All I could ask God was, why? I could no longer pray. Every time I tried, I would just cry. Through the wisdom of my spiritual director at the time, I was able to see that my tears, being the expression of my inner anguish, were probably the most honest prayer that I had yet uttered. I was in touch with my pain, and I was sharing it with God.
This experience helped me realize that where I can connect most intimately with Jesus is through my own human experience. I do not know his experience. But I know my own. And that is where I can meet Jesus, who also went through the experience of anguish — whose sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane and the few words he managed to gasp out were the way he shared what he was going through with his father. Because Jesus, as God and man, experienced the gamut of human experience and emotion, I can meet him there. It is common ground.
Jesus’ cry from the cross, “I thirst,” captures the divine and human pathos of Good Friday. All of us know what thirst is. When I imagine the scene, I recall a thought that has haunted me over and over again from seeing images of tremendously malnourished women holding their babies: What must it be like for a mother to hear the cries of her hungry baby, and be unable to provide food for her child? This is what Mary is going through at the foot of the cross. This is what the Father is experiencing as well — he, too, is unable to meet the needs of his own son at this moment. These words declare that Jesus, the Son of God, had so completely been stripped of everything, even the help of his father and mother, that his thirst could not be alleviated.
Did Jesus’ cry stop here? Did Jesus only mean that he longed for something to drink? Or was he thirsting for something much more? If we can hear Jesus’ cry and allow these two words to reverberate in the hollow of our being, we might be able to hear in the echo an invitation that might lead us to that reality that we all long for: connection with God.
I thirst. Most of us tend to avoid admitting how empty we feel. It’s too painful to go into the depths of our being and be with ourselves for any length of time. Most of our life is filled with distractions that defend us from the emptiness. If for a moment we reflect on our reality, we might have to admit that all our telling ourselves we are in control is just a way of drowning out the fact that life is very insecure. The “security” of our lives is based on so many variables that can crumble at any moment. Beneath our public veneer is an unconscious terror that we keep at bay with a tremendous amount of psychic effort.
Jesus’ ability to cry out “I thirst” tells us that he was in touch at a very profound level with his emptiness. He may have been expressing the thirst he felt for the restoration of the ruptured relationship between his Father and us. He may have been thirsting to taste once more the food of the kingdom of heaven, where he would enjoy the presence of his Father — and ours.
Can I hear these words and allow them to become my own as well? I thirst… At first we might feel helpless because we don’t know what Jesus means. I might be able to discover what he means by getting in touch with my own thirst. Simply repeating the phrase, I thirst, over and over again helps me begin to feel what it is that I thirst for. And that is where Good Friday becomes a shared experience between us and Jesus, which can lead to communion.
What will my response be to Jesus’ cry? How will I try to alleviate Jesus’ thirst? The litmus test of my response will not be an abstract internal affair. Rather, it must take flesh in the way I respond to the cry of thirst from those in my life, a cry that is often suffocated. If I can hear the undertones of Jesus’ cry of thirst, I may be able to hear my own and others’ unspoken thirst — a thirst that all of us, including God, have — that can only be satiated by one gift: love.