“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30) The story of the crucifixion is well known to us. But what of this part of Christ giving up His spirit? How is this particular act, that of Christ giving up His spirit, foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and what might any foreshadowing tell us about the Church? We will rely heavily on psalm 145 (LXX) sung during the Typica, a part of the service in the Slavonic tradition right before the little entrance. While I will discuss the whole psalm starting from the beginning, the reason I am discussing it at all in relation to Christ giving up His spirit is the importance of verse four, which speaks to the spirit of the dead going forth, and man’s burial.
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” (vs 1-2) Right away we are struck with the adulation of this psalm. To praise the Lord has a rather specific symbolic meaning for our Christian lives, which I am saving to go into greater detail in a future piece.
Notice, however, how quickly this adulation turns to command and to warning. Not only are we, in essence commanded, to praise the Lord while I live but we are told we can only praise the Lord while we have our being. After we die we will no longer have the ability to praise the Lord. And we see that this warning continues in verse three:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no help.” (vs 3) This verse is rather self evident. Our trust, our hope, is not in the sons of men, in a son of Adam, who will eventually die, but only in the Lord our God in Whom we find salvation Who is everlasting. The warning continues into verse four:
“His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return again to his earth; In that day all his thoughts shall perish.” (vs 4) While clearly speaking to the princes and sons of men in verse three and how their spirits will eventually leave them, they will perish, and our hope in them failing, verse four also symbolically speaks to our Lord’s crucifixion (John 19:30 above) and resurrection, while at the same time foreshadowing the birth of the Church, and the Final Judgment.
As quoted above, Christ utters, “It is finished!” and then gives up His spirit. Along the same lines as vs 4 of psalm 145, Christ has truly died, and is buried (return again to his earth), as a Man. But we all know that Christ returned in yet a different way, after giving up His spirit, to His earth: in the resurrection. Christ gives up His spirit and dies. But He returns again in the glory of His resurrection.
At Pentecost we celebrate the sending forth of the Spirit (His spirit shall go forth) upon the Apostles and the birth of the Church. God’s Spirit, the Heavenly King and Third Person of the Trinity, has gone forth upon the world as the guide of the Church. The Spirit of the Lord being sent forth at the birth of the Church gives us yet a third way in which our Lord shall return again to his earth: in the Final Judgment. His spirit has gone forth to guide His Church upon His Earth, awaiting His final return.
To not throw us into despair at the thought of the Final Judgment, psalm 145 takes a sharp turn with verse five, and beckons us to rejoice in the creation of the Church:
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God,” (vs 5). This speaks directly to failed hope in sons of men, and to the coming joy we receive upon entering the Church where salvation is found! One can only wonder if also, knowing Christ would die on the cross, the Spirit did not purposefully foreshadow this verse to bring comfort to the Apostles during those three days prior to the resurrection.
“Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who preserves truth forever,” (vs 6). A literal creational verse. But why does this verse not just merely say made heaven and earth but adds the sea? Remember what was discussed in Polyeleos on the creation narrative, that there is a compass on the face of the deep (Proverbs 8:27) to guide our way. Having just spoken of the creation of the Church, here the sea is giving us a choice, to either repent and to follow the compass towards the Church and our salvation, or not.
The sea has more connotations, particularly since the verse continues: and all that is in them. In a number of articles, including The Blindness of Adam & Knowing the Shepherd, it was shown how the waters above and below the firmament symbolize nous and soul, the mixture of which births the virtues. The seas are this mixture, and all that is in them are the virtues. We can, then, read verse six as the creation of Man, body, soul, and nous endowed with the power to create the virtues.
Verse six ends with, “Who preserves truth forever.” John 14:6 reads: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Those who participate in the creation of the virtues, who are grafted into the tree of life, into the Church, are grafted into Christ who is the Vine; Christ, Who is Truth, preserves those who abide in Him forever.
“Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.” (vs 7) As spoken in my article on the atonement, Divine Justice is described this way:
“But further, Almighty God is celebrated as justice, as distributing things suitable to all, both due measure, and beauty, and good order, and arrangement, and marking out all distributions and orders for each, according to that which truly is the most just limit, and as being Cause for all of the free action of each. For the Divine Justice arranges and disposes all things, and preserving all things unmingled and unconfused, from all, gives to all existing beings things convenient for each, according to the due falling to each existing thing.” ~St. Dionysios the Areopagite, Divine Names, Caput 8.7
We, under the curse of the transgression, are the oppressed. The Justice which God executes for us on our behalf is the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the founding of His Church. The food which He will give us is His flesh (John 6:51), for we are hungry, our seas are empty; we are void of the virtues. Through our initiation into the Church and participation in Her mysteries, we are able to cultivate the virtues, to “fill” our sea, which ultimately provides freedom from our slave masters: the passions.
“The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises up the fallen; The Lord loves the righteous.” (vs 8)
Verse eight goes in rapid succession, but they are common stories: that of the man born blind, the paralytic, and the Samaritan woman at the well. Much has already been written on these three central healings from the Gospel of John, and I invite you all to revisit those articles for reference. There are a number of verses in the psalter which mimic psalm 145 vs 8 (LXX) clearly foreshadowing these three healings in the Gospel of John. But it is here, in this position, because these are the physical and spiritual freedoms which we receive by participation in the Church and from the Lord. Combined, these three healings cover healing the whole of Man, body, soul, and nous.
“The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.” (vs 9) Psalm 145 returns to the atonement theme. The strangers are us, who are estranged from God through our sin. We all are also the fatherless, with Eve being the widow. Adam died a spiritual death in the Garden of Eden, thus failing to fulfill his role as high priest of creation, and leaving us fatherless. But God, watching over us, has given us the power to become Sons of God and having God as our Father. (John 1:12-13) In some translations the verse reads: He shall adopt for Himself the orphan and the widow; This rendering makes this point even more clear.
As previously just discussed, Divine Justice is the proper ordering of the cosmos. Turning the wicked upside down is returning to the natural order of creation, and a clear atonement message.
“The Lord shall reign forever— Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” (vs 10) Verse ten bookends the psalm as it began, with praise and adulation. However, this praise at the end is very different from the praise at the beginning. At the beginning there is praise for our creation. But as we work through the psalm we discover that the praise at the end is due to our salvation and reunification with God. Originally we asked ourselves if there was any symbolic meaning behind Christ giving up His spirit. At the end, we discover the foreshadowing of the Church and our salvation. For the saying is true: He has purchased the Church with His blood. (Act 20:28)