That word, “I am thirsty,” is of all the last words that Jesus spoke on the cross the most personal and the most intimate.
It is the revelation of God’s great love, at once warm and strong, for us and for those of us also who have rejected him or despised him. We touch here upon the mystery that is the secret he would wish to share with you and with me. He thirsts for us and, perhaps, especially for those who feel the most abandoned. God thirsts for man’s love, and that thirst can only be satisfied when we have begun to thirst and hunger for him. He longs for me. He thirsts.
The psalmist prayed:
Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God,
when can I enter and see the face of God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
The psalmist prayed again:
O God, you are my God, for you I long,
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry weary land without water. (Psalm 63:1)
I long; I yearn; I thirst. Those words belong, surely, to the language of love. To long for the beloved, to yearn, to pine for the beloved—to be thirsty.
Lord, those words come hard upon my lips, for it is a language that is strange and not always mine. Do I truly yearn? Is there a pining in my heart for you? Do I thirst? Then I hear a voice that calls:
Come closer. Linger in prayer at the foot of the cross and listen, for I have a word to speak into your ear. This is my word: I thirst. My tongue is parched—the terrible thirst of a dying man with a longing for a drink that will quench my thirst.
My heart is like a dry, weary land without water, like a deer that yearns for running streams. So many have left me, so many have walked away. So many do not need me. Other interests, other desires have taken my place. Yet I thirst. I thirst for all of these; I thirst for you, for each one of you.
So I say again: Come closer, linger on in prayer and listen as I whisper into your ear the words “I thirst for you.” Follow me in your thoughts and prayers; then you, too, will begin to long for me, to yearn, to pine, to thirst. For true love is the meeting of two thirsts— I thirst for you, you thirst for me. Then the stream runs and the land is no longer dry and weary without water, for the streams are running, the ones that flow from heart to heart.
This is a selection from Hope from the Cross: Reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Words by the late Cardinal Basil Hume, former Archbishop of Westminster.