Brief words often speak volumes. They say so much, and no other words are needed. “I thirst” is exactly that.
While, at first, we may think this is primarily about physical thirst—and we should not discount that dimension, the words are more about the situation in which Jesus finds himself.
“I thirst” is the cry of several lament Psalms in the Hebrew prayer book.
• “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2).
• Enemies gave righteous sufferers “poison for food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).
• “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:15).
This language, in one respect, arises out of isolation and desolation. The righteous sufferer agonizes over the reality of death and is disheartened by the loss of friendships.
And it is also a cry for God to quench the thirst of the sufferer. It is not so much a thirst for water as it is a thirst for God. In effect, this is another way of calling upon God for help, seeking God in the midst of suffering. It is a cry for God’s presence; it is John’s version of the cry of dereliction, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Today is “Holy Saturday.” On this day, Jesus lies in a tomb, the disciples are hiding, and Israel’s hope in this Messiah is gone. All seems lost.
“I thirst” is the cry of a dying Messiah. It is the cry of disciples who have lost hope. It is, often, our cry. We cry, “we thirst,” when we sense God’s absence in the midst of our experiences of terror, death, and injustice.
Where are you, God? We thirst for the living God. Where is our hope?
The cry, “I thirst,” receives a divine response on Sunday, but we must endure “Holy Saturday” before Sunday comes.
We endure it, in part, by crying with Jesus and the Psalmists, “I thirst.”