Final Act of Faith

We are in the midst of the third Holy Week since Honey died. Since then, it seems as though every year during Holy Week a single, but specific take-away sneaks up on me. I don’t remember that happening all those years I was in local church music ministry, perhaps because I was otherwise preoccupied with typical musical goings-on, events, logistics, etc., tied to that week. Looking back from this distance, that’s not something I’m particularly proud to admit. Contributive to my richer experiences in recent years has been closer attention to the entire Lenten season -- Ash Wednesday through Holy Week -- and attendance at related church services. Holy Week services -- Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday services set a wonderful stage for celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday and the four together make for a very meaningful spiritual journey at just the right time.

This year’s take-away was Jesus’ final -- according to Luke’s Gospel -- of seven sayings from the cross -- “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” That was the focus of the lesson at Sunday’s Sunday School class I attend when my schedule allows. In His first three utterances, Jesus took care of others:

  • “Father, forgive them…” -- his forsakers and crucifiers
  • “Today you will be with me in paradise” to the dying thief
  • “Behold your son; behold your mother” to his family

Sayings four and five show His humanity:

  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • “I thirst”

The sixth seems to be transitional between this world and the next:

  • “It is finished”

Then His release:

  • “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” addressed to none other than God.

Some time and for some reason after Honey died, I wrote that death may well be the believer’s final act of faith. I couldn’t prove my hunch nor explain it very well, but watching Honey live while dying one day at a time over several months, it just seemed right. I still can’t prove it but contemplating Jesus’ words from the cross sheds good light and makes the notion clearer. Jesus’ ministry on earth complete and His humanity on full display, His final act was one of unwavering faith in His Father -- “into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke goes on to say “And having said this, He breathed His last.

I don’t mean to over-spiritualize what I’m about to say nor exalt Honey inappropriately, but in the middle of Sunday’s class I realized that though the circumstances were very different, her death followed much the same pattern as His.

In the months and weeks leading up to her death, she completed some long-standing tasks, took care of people, and said things to family that needed saying. About a month before she died, she stopped talking about the grandkids which signaled to me she was already gazing beyond; and her humanity was certainly evident. But at the end I believe she -- not unlike Jesus -- committed her spirit into her Father’s hands -- her final act of faith. (see Notes From Susie, p. 337, paragraphs two and three.) I hope that’s not heresy, and I can’t prove it, but it just seems right.

Perhaps the week called Holy holds added meaning for me now because we buried Honey just two days before Holy Week 2015. I thank God for His timing.

Here is an old hymn Honey loved and that my sisters and I sang in three-part harmony at approximately ages six and eight or maybe even five and seven. It seems appropriate for today mid-Holy Week.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
     for Thee, all the follies of sin I resign;
     my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
     and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
     I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
     I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
     and singing Thy praises, before Thee I’ll bow;
     if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

Words – William R. Featherstone, 1864

Jesus showed us how to die and Honey obviously followed His lead to the very end. Indeed, death is the believer’s final act of faith!

- Mark

Making Sense of the Hymnal: Mary and Joseph

Besides baby Jesus, His mom gets most of the press in the Christmas story and perhaps rightly so. For a long time, though, I've thought the birth of Jesus was as much a step of faith for Joseph as it was for Mary. Though not knowing exactly how she conceived, Mary believed the angel Gabriel and was completely confident that the Holy Spirit had fathered her baby. Joseph's faith walk had an additional step -- believing his wife-to-be AND the angel who later appeared to him. Mary has a baby growing in her womb while Joseph's probable task was to keep explaining the unbelievable though blessed situation to people in his circle and beyond. Mary carried the evidence; all Joseph possessed was others' word. 

Through the years, hymn writers and carol crafters have melded sparse biblical record and poetic imagination to tell the ancient story. But as already suggested, there is relatively much biblical record about Mary compared with very little of Joseph. In the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, there is a four-item Mary section that includes, "My Soul Proclaims with Wonder," and "Tell Out, My Soul," both based on Luke 1:46-55 -- Mary's song in response to Gabriel's announcement to her. Between those two versions of the Magnificat is the actual scripture passage and the hymn, "Young Mary Lived in Nazareth;" the latter moves the story forward including Mary's visit to Elizabeth, a brief mention of Joseph, and the journey to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. 

But a subtle thing occurs a few hymnal pages later. On the left side of the spread appears, "Gentle Mary Laid Her Child," but facing it on the right side is an entire hymn centering on Joseph. That occurrence is not accidental nor is it coincidental that their tonal centers are closely related, meaning the two hymns could be sung in worship seamlessly, one following the other. 

Although the Joseph hymn, "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child," is mostly author imagination its message is completely plausible and seems to capture some of the weight Joseph bore and the worship he experienced in his journey of faith. Walk alongside this Christmas giant for a spell. 

The hands that first held Mary's child

were hard from working wood, 

from boards they sawed and planed and filed

and splinters they withstood.

This day they gripped no tool of steel, 

they drove no iron nail, 

but cradled from the head to heel

our Lord, new-born and frail. 

When Joseph marveled at the size

of that small breathing frame, 

and gazed upon those bright new eyes

and spoke the infant's name, 

the angel's words he once had dreamed

poured down from heaven's height, 

and like the host of stars that beamed

blessed earth with welcome light. 

"This child shall be Emmanuel, 

not God upon the throne, 

but God with us, Emmanuel,

as close as blood and bone."

The tiny form in Joseph's palms

confirmed what he had heard, 

and from his heart rose hymns and psalms

for heaven's human word.

The tools that Joseph laid aside

a mob would later lift

and use with anger, fear, and pride

to crucify God's gift. 

Let us, O Lord, not only hold

the child who's born today, 

but charged with faith may we be bold

to follow in His way.

Words by Thomas H. Troeger © 1985 Oxford University Press


We've gotten used to the idea that Mary -- likely a teenager at the time -- was special and, though only a common person, accepted God's call to participate uniquely in the Kingdom. But this hymn helps me see that Joseph, even more"under the radar" and unlikely than we've thought of Mary, was trusted of God and also was faithful to God to be and do a unique thing. I believe it took them both to bring the Prince of Peace safely into the world. 

And if God trusted these two, do you think perhaps He also calls and trusts you and me to do our individual part in delivering His peace to our world? I do. 

- Mark