The Very Last Things (and what comes after)

silhouette photography of hanging rosary
Photo by Vanderlei Longo on
Editor’s Note: This post has been two weeks in the making. Apologies it’s landing on a Friday instead of a Wednesday.

Part One: The Very Last Things

Are you weary? Wondering where God is? Wondering what plans there are? Forsaken? Cast out?

Lent is the season of the Christian life dedicated to grief and lament, death and burial. It’s something we often fear in the church in favor of the hope and joy of Easter. I’m thankful, beyond what I could express, for the life of joy Easter offers us. But for three days they all sat in it. Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary, cousin of Jesus. Judas who led him to the slaughter for tiny amounts of metal. Peter, who denied knowing his best friend. Mockers who threw stones and laughter in equal stride. They sat in it. That story matters. And it’s something we should talk more about on Sunday morning. But the story I want to read together today is not that one.

What were Jesus’, preacher extraordinaire, last words on this Earth? What might they have to teach us for the moments that everything is gone? That everything feels forsaken? That our flesh, literally or figuratively, hangs off our body, and the gnats, hungry and lost, bite into our open sides?

Matthew 27:46/ Mark 15:34/ Psalm 22:1

Read the above verses before continuing. 

Let’s all remember, for a moment, what scripture, what writing was, at the time of its composition and circulation. It was costly, both in monetary value and human labor to keep texts in circulation. Scrolls had to be copied and recopied, worn out almost immediately after being circulated. It’s why many of the Gospels offer different accounts, highlighting different aspects and perspectives of Jesus’ various ministries. This phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the only one to appear in more than one Gospel.

Why is that? At a time when writing was precious and costly, why repeat anything at all? And if you had to, why not make it “love your neighbor” or “Honor God you dirty heathen” or something that, as God, serves to honor and not disrespect you?

God is many things, but stupid or naive isn’t one of them. In the list of things I want the modern church to understand about God, number 2 is that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to curse God and spit in Its holy eye. It’s okay to feel betrayed by God and abandoned, to question the goodness God purportedly gives God’s children, when what we see and feel tells us the opposite. But the manner in which Jesus does it is telling. God is still his God. God is still in control and powerful. God is ultimately bending our stories towards justice and love and peace. But the very human question we all ask ourselves remains, not out of sin, for Jesus never sinned, but out of truth. It’s true to feel like God has forsaken you. It’s a feeling so true it’s been blessed by the son of God who felt it.

Luke 23:46 / Psalm 31:5

Read the above verses before continuing. 

Trust is something we are not accustomed to.  People are so disappointing. Eventually, everyone will let you down. Your parents, your children, your best friend, and your worst enemy. Sooner or later, they’ll drop the ball, leaving you hanging. They’ll frustrate you, irritate you, and make you scream until your lungs hurt and your eyes burn. But sometimes, despite all of that, when we get really lucky, they stay.

I’ve had relationships with people who have bailed at the first signs of trouble. A rumor got out and suddenly I had no friends because of course I would say bad things about the people I loved. There was a bad boyfriend and I spoke up and told her and I was just trying to break up a relationship because I was hurt. There was a pastor who split up a youth group so I assumed he was a horrible human with only bad intentions.

The mark of a true Christian is cussing God out in the middle of a grocery store parking lot because your card got declined again and you’re not sure how you’re going to feed your family and continuing to trust that God, a holy and perfect parent, is a good steward of your path. Those aren’t mutually exclusively. There is pain in true love, risk in trust. With the right person, though, we come to know that kind of love and trust is worth it in the end.

John 19:28 / John 4:4-26

Read the above verses before continuing. 

Jesus, who claims that anyone who follows him will never thirst is… thirsty. Anyone else concerned about that? Yes, it’s to fulfill a prophecy, but I can’t help but feel, like Jesus, whose whole life was defined by complexity and double meaning, this moment means something else too. Christ was human. Thirsty and hungry. In pain and bloodied. His death was a human one. But also, Christ knew that this world was one of misery and pain. He knew that Friday wasn’t the end of the story, that the water of the living stream was coming, but it didn’t matter. He was still thirsty. Jesus’ felt real pain and real impatience, thirsting after what was to come at the same time as understanding why his death was occurring. Even with the knowledge, the pain and humanity didn’t go away.

We often ask why God allows horrible things to happen. When something truly terrible happens to a friend of yours, what do you say? Nothing, right? Because you know on some instinctual level, nothing can fill the void. I’m not saying asking why God lets bad things happen is an invalid question (see above). But maybe the answer would never truly heal our broken hearts. Maybe it isn’t supposed to.

John 19:30 / It is Finished

Read the scripture and, if you choose, listen to the hymn, before continuing. 

Your child, your best friend, your messiah, sags on a cross in front of you, dying. You have no idea Easter is coming. If you’re somehow still foolish and crazy enough to believe in hope, that God will swoop down in fire and rescue the Son, you hear Jesus exclaim the phrase that cuts you to the marrow, deeper than watching him beaten and bloodied. It is finished.

That’s it? The great wondrous story of God? The hope of humanity? In an instant, finished.

By Jesus’ own mouth, the story we should be celebrating on this good Friday is not a resurrected one. Of course, as Believers (which I’m assuming you are if you’ve made it through 1122 words of this), we know what has been finished. Our salvation. Our redemption and unification with the Holy God of Israel. For some people in some traditions, the death of Jesus is a personal one salvation from personal sins and failures. For others, the death of Jesus is a systemic one, redeeming our structures from the evils the afflict on the bodies of innocents. Whatever you believe, know this: It is finished.

There’s relief in that, yes? That for all our struggling, all our wounded bodies, our maggot infested sides, this is true: there comes a day when it is finished, and our God, our creator can look at us and say, “well done.”

First, the very last, bitter and painful end of things. Then, the after.



Bryce’s debut collection can be purchased here. 25% of the profits go to organizations like RAINN, 1in6, and End The Backlog. He writes short stories for free here.

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