Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation
The Seven Last Words are the seven last sentences, or phrases, or sayings, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, at least as recorded in the Gospels.
The First Word
Luke 23.26, 32-34
The soldiers led Jesus away, and as they were going, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon who was coming into the city from the country. They seized him, put the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.… Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called ‘The Skull’, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.’
Hannah Arendt was a Jew who left Nazi Germany for the USA in 1933. She once wrote:
Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.
Jesus reversed history by forgiving his torturers. Jesus has given the world a second chance. He said
Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.
People who hung on a cross were not meant to ask forgiveness for those who were killing them; they were jeered and sledged mercilessly, and they were expected to return jeer for jeer, sledge for sledge, until exhaustion took its toll. It was all part of the sport.
But Jesus forgave, and history can and one day will be reversed.
Teach us how to forgive, Lord. Teach the nations how to forgive, instead of seeking an eye for an eye. Amen.
The Second Word
One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, ‘Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!’
Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.’
Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.
Tradition gave the penitent thief a name, did you know that? He is called ‘Dismas’. He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
Dismas is a great example of faith to us: Jesus was enthroned all right, but his ‘throne’ was a cross, the place of degradation and shame. This was his only kingdom.
Can I see what Dismas saw? Can I see signs of Jesus’ kingdom as I look around the world today?
How is it coming? Does it really come as the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered? Or is that wishful thinking?
Lord, I believe—help my unbelief. Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith. Amen.
The Third Word
Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’
Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.
Woman, here is your son.
Things weren’t always smooth between Jesus and his mother. In the Gospel According to Mark, there is a time when his mother and the family come to take Jesus away, because he was obviously mad. That day, Jesus asks a question:
Who are my mother and my brothers?
He looks at those who are gathered around him and says
Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
Friends, Jesus names us, you and me, as his sisters and brothers. He has created a new community, a whole new family through his love poured out for us.
Can we enter into these new friendships, these new kinship networks, that are created by his Spirit among us?
Can we love one another, as he has loved us?
The Fourth Word
At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
William Willimon, a Methodist from the USA, reminds those of us who believe that
God the Father did not save God the Son from the cross or rescue him from this agony. — Thank God it’s Friday
God the Father did not save our Lord Jesus from Calvary, but the Father was there with our Lord throughout that whole ordeal.
1700 years ago, Cyril of Jerusalem reminded us that it was right here Jesus that truly took our place on the cross. We know what it means to be separated from God, through sin or disobedience, though despair or unbelief, through grief and loss, through serious illness and as we face death.
We are separated from God; Christ knew that separation in order to be one with us.
Yet God was still there with him on the cross. My God—for you are still my God—why have you forsaken me?
As he cries out, Christ is for ever with us who are lost, so that we may find our way home.
The Fifth Word
Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’
I am thirsty.
Did Jesus get thirsty? Sometimes, we are strangely surprised when we realise that of course, the answer to this question is Yes.
Jesus calls out, I thirst.
Jesus calls out to us today, I thirst—where people have to walk miles to fetch water; or in places like Flint, Michigan where their drinking water is contaminated by lead.
Jesus calls out to us today, I hunger—where drought or blight causes people to face famine.
Jesus calls out to us today, I am homeless—yes, on the streets of Brisbane.
Jesus, you thirst today. Give us hearts to quench your thirst. Amen.
The Sixth Word
A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said, ‘It is finished!’
It is finished.
Lord, we are grateful that you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’
Your work was finished. You accomplished the mission the Father had given you in your life and your death.
You now hand it on to us. You said we would do greater things; help us to trust you and your Spirit amongst us.
Lord, strengthen us. Keep us faithful to you. Amen.
The Seventh Word
It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father! In your hands I place my spirit!’ He said this and died.
Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.
Lord Jesus, once you said,
Blessed are the pure in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of God.
And Psalm 51 says,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.
Deliver us from the ego-prison of our self-righteous spirits. Give us each one a renewed spirit, one we too may commend to your God and our God, to your Father and our Father. Amen.