Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

The seven last words of Jesus

8 Apr 2020, 10 a.m.



John 19 v28

In the Bible, thirst as a desire and as a need, is often mentioned. When I started to think about this reflection, I immediately thought of the hymn that has become popular over the last 30 years - “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you”, based on the first 2 verses of Psalm 42. It evokes a tremendous image of beauty and a desire to be closer to our Lord. Most people have a deep spiritual need to know God and using a desire for water, which is perhaps our greatest human need, creates a thought pattern which is hard to ignore.

As Jesus was suffering on the cross it is hard for us to imagine the horror of his pain. Some years ago I read an article by a doctor describing the trauma of crucifixion. As a way of killing someone it was perhaps the cruellest execution possible and was devised as the ultimate deterrent. Jesus had already been tortured and beaten by soldiers, he had been mocked and humiliated, and then had nails hammered through his wrists and feet before hoisting him above the ground so that every attempt to breathe brought more pain and trauma. After committing his mother's care to the disciple he loved (thought to be John), Jesus calls out “I am thirsty”. It is most unlikely at this horrific time that Jesus was trying to think of words that would fulfil the scriptures, in John's Gospel perhaps we should see that the scriptures were fulfilled that first Good Friday. “I am thirsty” was a natural human cry of desperation for the mainstay of life – water. Whether the sour wine given on a sponge helped him before he gave up his spirit we do not know, but I am sure it was not true relief at a time near death.

Water is the great necessity of life. All life depends on water for its existence. The human body can live for many weeks without food, but starved of water it will die in days. In hospitals one of the most important jobs for nurses and doctors is to make sure that patients are properly hydrated. Whatever else a patient is in hospital for, if they do not have fluid passing through them they will not thrive.

When I was a child I would often exclaim that I was “dying of thirst”. This was usually to try to get permission for some squash or fizzy pop, but my mother would say, “You might be thirsty but you are not dying of thirst”, before pointing to the water tap. When I was a child in the 1950's I was often made aware of how fortunate I was when I saw pictures of droughts, famines and refugees, but it is so easy to push such thoughts aside as we pursue our selfish ways. Most of us in this country live relatively sheltered lives as far as water is concerned, and can get quite agitated if there is a hosepipe ban. Some facts that we should remember however are that 1 in 10 people still do not have clean water near their home, and 1 in 4 people do not have a decent toilet of their own. At the moment we are washing our hands as though our life depended on it (which it probably does), but think how difficult that must be in developing countries and refugee camps. Remember the words of Jesus when he preaches about judgement, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” Matthew Ch 25 v45. Although we are all feeling sorry for ourselves we must do our best to help others especially through agencies such as Christian Aid.

Earlier in his Gospel St. John tells us the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and Jesus tells her that he is the living water. When Jesus says “I am thirsty” when he knows that his earthly life is drawing to a close he knew that the living water that he promised would flow for ever. Let that living water be your inspiration this Easter.

Fr. Terry