Good Friday The Reverend Jeffrey M. Halenza
April 10, 2020 Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church
Reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ
First Word: And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But of course we do know, do know what we are doing, know very well what we are doing. That is our guilt. That is our shame.
And yet, perhaps we do not know what we do. Perhaps we do not realize that with our cruel words and the prejudices we voice, with our thoughtless actions or our failure to act, with our angers and bitternesses, with our going along with our culture and our unwillingness to be shaped by and live out the Gospel, we do kill Christ, kill his love, kill hope. If people do not see in us who profess to be Christian the love of Christ, then we are crucifying him all over again.
Father, forgive us.
Second Word: And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And that is our hope: that someday we shall be with Christ in Paradise.
But if our hope is based on our own goodness or religiousness or even faith, then we have no hope. For we are no different than the thief on the cross who pleaded for Jesus to remember him: our hope rests on God’s grace and mercy alone. That is the stark truth of the cross. The cross was made necessary by the way world is, the way we are.
And our only hope and prayer is that of the thief’s: “Remember me.”
Third Word: And Jesus said, “This is your son… This is your mother.”
At the end, Jesus spoke to his mother’s deepest need and gave her a son to be the son he was never able to be to her. Jesus said that his true family were all who believed in him and he put that family above Mary and his own family and it must have hurt her deeply. But her greatest pain was to watch him die – it was like a sword piercing her heart. And so, Jesus gave her another son to love and a son who would love her and take care of her.
At the end, Jesus forgot his own pain and spoke to Mary’s pain. As believers who are part of his family and who are to be like family to one another, we are to do the same: we are to forget ourselves and look after the other, love one another.
Love with the very same love seen on the cross.
Fourth Word: And Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And we ourselves know something about that – what it is like to feel forsaken by God, for God not to be there when we need him most.
The Bible speaks as much about God’s absence as it does God’s presence and Jesus himself experienced that absence in his worst moment. But still, he held fast to God, cried out to God. Faith describes what we do in our worst moments, what we do when God is nowhere in sight.
To cry out to the absent God is faith, the very faith of Jesus that carried him out the other side of death to life.
Fifth Word: And Jesus said, “I thirst.”
And we too thirst – thirst for love, peace, joy, something to fill the empty place down deep inside. Spiritual thirst can be as bad as physical thirst. Both can lead to death, whether it be the death that is despair or the death of the body. So powerful is thirst that we will do most anything to quench it and much of what we see in our culture today is just that: people filling themselves with everything they can in the hope that it satisfy their longing.
Jesus once said that whoever believes in him will never be thirsty, because he was like a spring of life-giving water that can quench our deepest thirst. And yet, he himself thirsted.
He is a Savior who chose to know our thirst so that he would be a Savior in whom we could believe and thirst no more.
Sixth Word: And Jesus said, “It is finished.”
But did Jesus mean that his life was at an end or that he had fulfilled his purpose? Both: for by being obedient unto death he completed his work, fulfilled God’s purpose of redeeming his creation. He did what he set out to do, what God called him to do. In John’s gospel, they are the last words Jesus spoke and they are words of triumph.
And you and I? What will our last words be? Will they be, “If only…” or “I wish…” or “I regret not doing…”? Or will we say, “I have lived my purpose, I have obeyed God’s call, I have completed what I set out to do”? As with Jesus, so too with us: the choice is ours.
What Jesus finished was the working of our salvation, setting us free to be what God calls us to be. If we choose to live in the power of that salvation, then our last words can be words of if not triumph, certainly words of thankfulness and praise.
Seventh Word: And Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
As death approached, Jesus commended his spirit to God, entrusted himself to the God who had promised to see him through death unto life. It was his final act of faith.
And as death approaches, that is all each of us can do: entrust ourselves to God’s grace and mercy, commend our spirits to his care. We die as we live: in faith, the faith that trusts that we will be safe in the hands of God and that God will raise us up also at the last.
The cross of Christ is ultimately a love story: the story of a lover giving all for the sake of the beloved. Because God gave all for the sake of our salvation, we can dare to trust his love for us and, like Jesus, love him through death unto life.