Once again, those who followed Jesus missed the point. Anyone who has awoken the morning after having shared a bottle of wine with friends knows that wine is hardly a thirst quencher. On the contrary, wine is a thirst inducer, and yet this is what Jesus is given when from the cross he says, “I thirst.” Oops. Missed again. Even attempts at compassion for the dying Christ are fumbled, only exacerbating the problem they are trying to solve.
We live in a thirsty age. Not only are we thirsty ourselves, but our culture and society seek explicitly and intentionally to modify our thirsts. Marketing experts are experts precisely in the delicate art of inspiring and intensifying our thirsts. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Marsh Chapel Experiment, which was designed precisely to see whether certain chemical substances were effective in intensifying spiritual thirst. As it turns out, it is indeed possible to intentionally and explicably alter a person’s spiritual appetites with the chemical substances in question.
Jesus’ thirst is different than our many modern thirsts. Jesus’ thirst arises after he knows that “all was now finished.” It is over. There is nothing left. Jesus is at the bottom of the trajectory outlined in the kenotic hymn of Philippians 2:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Here, on the cross, just before he gives up his spirit, Jesus is entirely empty. No wonder he is thirsty. There is purity to this thirst. It is not something that can be instilled or inspired or intensified. Jesus’ thirst at the bottom of the kenotic ellipse is a pure desire for the process of self-emptying to cease, one way or another. It is a cry of desperation. Giving voice to the pure desire for an end of emptiness, by whatever means necessary, in the language of thirst, here we see the turning point to the second half of the ellipse of the kenotic hymn:
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The exaltation of Jesus the Christ must await the resurrection at Easter. For now, as we shall hear momentarily, it is finished. The language of thirst points to the fact that the exaltation is not guaranteed. At the point at which Jesus is hanging on the cross, the cry of thirst is not necessarily for fullness, but either for fullness or for annihilation. One way or another, please God, end it. In these next days, we too must hang on the cross, wondering whence and whether our glory might come.