THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
Is 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Today is Good Friday. It is a day of remembrance. It is a day of penance. And it is, most of all, a day of prayer. For, on this day we mark the death of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This day is for us a HOLY DAY. It is a day when we re-enact the events that took place on that first Good Friday in order to remind ourselves of the sufferings Jesus went through for our sake. It is a day on which we read the Gospel accounts of that last journey Jesus took from the Praetorium to the hill of Calvary. We accompany him every step of the way knowing that it is our guilt that he has taken upon himself.
Today, therefore, we shall base our reflection upon pondering the final words of Jesus, before his death. Scripture (the four gospels) records seven last statements, or the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus before his death on the cross. These SEVEN WORD are words of LOVE. To help us meditate on these “Last Words”, let us recall the words found in Verse 4 of a Hymn authored by Frederick William Faber (1849), and composed by John Bacchus Dykes. The song can be found in the Cameroon Hymnal 176: “O come and mourn with me awhile.” The first line of Verse 4 reads: “Seven times he spoke seven words of love”. This love of Jesus is at the center of what we are celebrating today. Note: Every verse of that song ends with the sentence: “JESUS, OUR LOVE, IS CRUCIFIED”. Love is the essence of Good Friday! (Cite the Jesus’ deliberate entry into Jerusalem, his Passover Meal, and his death as sign of that LOVE.) Let us therefore, take each phrase and spend time reflecting on it, seeking the deeper spiritual meaning for our lives. (BUT BEFORE THE DETAILD ANALYSIS, LET US SING VERSES 1&4 OF CH 176)
1. THE SEVEN LAST WORDS
i). “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34)
Jesus’ forgiveness of others was radical and to a degree never seen before. While hanging on the Cross and enduring the cruelty of others, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. He forgave them in the midst of his persecution.
What’s more is that he even acknowledged that those crucifying him were not fully responsible. They clearly did not know what they were doing. This humble acknowledgment of Jesus shows the depth of his tender mercy. It reveals that he died not in anger or resentment, but in WILLING SACRIFICE, out of Love for us.
We, too, can says these words within our minds. Let us call to mind those persons who have hurt you, and let us pray that the Father may forgives them! Let us leave all judgment to God and offer mercy and forgiveness to others. (WE SING CH 176 Vs 1)
ii) “I assure you (truly), today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43)
What a consolation it must have been for the good thief to hear these words! He must have been experiencing a certain despair in life at that moment as he, along side of Jesus, was dying on a cross. What a gift it was to be there next to the Saviour of the World, sharing in the sufferings of Christ in such a real way! The penitent thief acknowledged his guilt and wickedness and was welcomed by Christ. We, too, can find salvation if we acknowledge our sinfulness. This man was privileged to be among the first to receive this gift of salvation, won by Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus offers us the same assurance. He offers salvation to us, beginning today. And he offers it to us in the midst of our own suffering and sin. Can you hear him offer you this gift of mercy? Can you hear him invite you to share his gift of everlasting life? Let him speak this invitation to you and let the eternal life of paradise begin to take hold more deeply today in your soul! (WE SING CH 176 Vs 2)
iii) “Woman, behold your son.” (Jn 19:26)
This word turns our gaze from the drama of the cross to those standing at the foot of the cross. It establishes Mary not only as John’s mother, but also our mother in the faith.
What a gift! While dying on the Cross, Jesus entrusts his own mother to John. And in so doing, he entrusts her to each one of us. Our unity with Jesus makes us members of his family and, thus, sons and daughters of his own mother. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, accepts this responsibility with great joy. She embraces us and holds us close.
Do we accept Jesus’ mother as our own spiritual mother? Have we fully consecrated ourselves to her? Doing so will place us under her mantle of protection and love. (WE SING CH 176 Vs 3)
iv) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?) (Mtt 27:46)
Jesus is quoting Psalm 22– He embraces His suffering by speaking to the Father with the Word. That Psalm resolves in triumph and hope, as will Christ’s suffering. The Father doesn’t abandon Christ; rather, Christ abandons himself to the Father.
Jesus was not abandoned but he allowed himself to feel and experience this complete loss of the Father in his human nature. He felt the deep experience of despair. He allowed himself to know and experience the effects of sin. Therefore, he knows what we go through when we despair. He knows what it feels like. And he is there with us in those temptations enabling us to press on through any despair toward total faith and trust in the Father. (WE SING CH 176 Vs 4)
v) “I thirst.” (Jn 19:28)
What a meaningful statement! Jesus thirsted physically at that moment for water to quench his dehydration. But more than that, he thirsted spiritually for the salvation of all of our souls. Jesus’ spirit still longs for this gift of salvation. He longs to call us his children. He thirsts for our love.
Ponder Jesus saying these words to you. “I thirst for you!” It is a deep and burning thirst for our love. We satisfy Jesus’ thirst by returning that love. Let us quench his thirst this Good Friday by giving him your love. (WE SING CH 176 Vs 5)
vi) “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)
These are the words we need to pray more than any. These are the words of complete surrender to God. Prayer is ultimately about one thing. It is about surrender. It is about trust. Let us say these words over and over today; and let this perfect surrender of Jesus also be our surrender.
Surrender means God is in control. It means that we let go of our own will and choose only God’s. (Dying is a process through which every human being must pass. It comes slowly; and we must accept it gracefully by our ability to abstain from certain things we indulge in – feeding habits, fashion, aging process, self-attachments, etc.) God pledges to accept our surrender and he guides us into the perfect plan which he has in mind for us. (WE SING CH 176 Vs 6)
vii) “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30)
The sixth statement from Jesus while on the cross was a cry of victory. The Greek text reads tetelestai, “It is finished.” What was finished? As we consider the life and ministry of Jesus we can think of several things that His death made complete.
a) Jesus finished the job that the Father gave him to do: First, Jesus had to finish the task the Father had sent him to earth to accomplish, namely to provide salvation for humankind. By living his entire life without sin, Jesus was able to become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. The way of salvation had now been made complete. No more animal sacrifices were necessary for they had only pointed to the ultimate sacrifice Jesus had now offered. His was the supreme sacrifice which satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God.
b) Jesus fulfilled prophecy: The second thing that was accomplished by Jesus on the cross was a fulfillment of prophecy. The predicted Messiah had come as God promised he would. Prophecies of the Word of God, which are always accurate, had again come to pass. The Savior was promised; now Christ the Saviour had come and accomplished the promised salvation.
c) Jesus achieved victory over the Devil: A third matter that was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross was the victory over the devil. The Scripture says that one of the purposes for Jesus’ coming was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). The death of Christ finished that task. The dominion over the earth that man, through his sin, had handed over to the devil was now won back. The authority of Satan had been vanquished; the victory had been won. When Christ comes back again he will take hold of the victory that he won over the devil on Calvary’s cross.
d) Jesus suffering was finished: A fourth and final reason that Jesus said, “It is finished” is with regard to His own suffering. Jesus spent over thirty years upon the earth living among sinful man, suffering from the self-imposed limitations of that existence. He had now endured the final six hours of that suffering on a cross. This was now finished. He would no longer have to suffer the limits of space and time. It was finished!
On the Cross, Jesus abolishes every old order of sacrifice – it is all ended (tetélestai), and he inaugurates a new order of sacrifice, by the priestly handing over of himself and the world to the Father, fulfilling that act of giving himself to his apostles the night before: “take my body… take my blood…” given up for you. By this sacrifice, Jesus declares: “It is finished.” (WE SING CH 176 Vs 7)
2. THE CROSS ON WHICH JESUS DIED (NB. This section can be omitted for want of time)
We are used to seeing this sacrifice on the Cross. We ponder this sacrifice every time we look at the crucifix. But it is important to note that our over-familiarity with the Cross can tempt us to lose sight of the sacrifice. It’s easy for us to miss what Jesus actually did for us. He accomplished the act that saves us and he is now offering it to us. Let this completed act of Divine Mercy penetrate our souls. He desires to say that his sacrifice has “finished” its work in your soul.
Therefore, today, on this Good Friday, it would be good if we spent the day pondering the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice. Let us try to understand what it was like for God himself to suffer and die. Let us contemplate what it was like for God simself, the Creator of all things, to be put to death by those whom he created, to suffer at the hands of those whom he loved with a perfect love!
Often, we wear crucifixes; we carry them around; we have them in our churches and homes; but do we really understand what the cross means? The Cross is the greatest act of love the world has ever known and the supreme expression of the power of God. When people see in it weakness, we Christians find in it the power that liberates us from condemnation; when the world counts it as foolishness, we find in it the wisdom of God that saves; when people find it a scandal, we find in it the supreme act of love – our God turning against himself in order to set us free. For the Catholic, the cross has a great significance:
a) The sign of the cross is the mark of Catholicism. We begin all prayers with the sign of the cross. We bless with the sign of the cross, etc.
b) The crucifix is a symbol of our salvation: By the sacrifice on the cross, we have been saved. When we say the Stations of the Cross, we say “We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
c) The crucifix is a symbol of protection from the devil: One of the main instruments used by exorcists to cast out the devil is the crucifix. The devil runs away where there is one, because he knows that that is the sign of his defeat.
d) The crucifix gives new meaning to human suffering: Christ says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk.9:23).
e) The crucifix is the greatest sign of love: Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for his friends”.
f) The crucifix is a sign of total consecration: that is why we wear the crucifix. St Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:19-20).
g) The crucifix is a sign of the perseverance of Our Blessed Mother Mary: It was by the cross that Jesus said to Mary and John “Mother behold thy son; son behold thy mother”. When we look at the cross, we grow more and more in love for our Lady, the perfect mother.
Considering that Jesus gave his life for us on the cross of Calvary, the least we can do is live our lives for him. What he says to us now is no different from what he stated several years before his death: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Understanding Jesus’ sacrificial love will enable us to love as he did. It will enable us to love those who have hurt us and those who persecute us. His love is total. It is generous beyond description.
Lord, I know that you thirst for my soul. You finished what You started by dying on the Cross for my salvation and the salvation of the world. Help me to understand your love and to accept it into my life. Help me to forgive. Help me to invite you into my own darkness and sin. Help me to abandon all to you. I thank you, dear suffering Lord, for the gift of your Precious Blood, poured out for the salvation of the world. Jesus, I trust in You!