Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus
Here is a devotional you can do in recognition of Good Friday this evening or this Saturday.
The First Word
Reading Luke 23:33-38
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Everyone has an opinion about what is best in this season of Corona. Opinions range from abiding by the strictest of precautions to thinking that the current policies are worse than the pandemic. Since we are still learning about this virus daily and none of us know every possible future timeline, Jesus’ word’s “they do not know what they are doing” seem appropriate not only for the grave injustice and cruelty of the cross, but for the human condition in every time and place including today. We do not know what we are doing. Some are more foolish, some more wise. Some more selfish, some more sacrificial. But, by those things we do and those things we leave undone, by wrongs we knowingly commit and by wrongs we thought were right, none of us are perfect. So we simply try again each day to humbly discern and resolutely follow the Way, while trusting we have a Savior who forgives us despite ourselves.
Think of those who have responded to the Corona virus in ways that make you angry or frustrated. Pray for them and seek God’s forgiveness to embrace them. Pray that your anger and frustration might be replaced with the Lord’s amazing grace.
Holy Father, in the crucifixion, Christ bore the fullness of all the hatred, sin, and evil that humankind has wrought in this world. Yet surrounded by so prevalent and unmerciful an enemy, Jesus ends the cycle of evil, puts down the gauntlet of retribution, sets aside the scales of justice, and instead, speaks words of pure, unmerited, and pleading grace. Holy Father, we stand fully complicit in the sins that sent your Son to suffer, but by His petition on our behalf, emboldened us to trust in your divine forgiveness. Amen.
The Second Word
Reading: Luke 23:39-43
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding (Jesus) and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43(Jesus) replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It is radical to hear how a criminal who is so undeserving receives such a grace-filled promise. Even the thief knows he deserves nothing but death. His only notable accomplishment is that he perceives the true nature of Jesus and himself. His cry for mercy is hopeful in Jesus and desperate for himself. Jesus responds to this simple plea by promising him redemption and Paradise. This amazing display of grace, is even more radical when we recognize this criminal is showing us the grace we receive. When we come to realize the truth that we are undeserving, we too can cry out in hopeful humility to the only one who can bring us to Paradise. And He does.
Lift up to our Lord your sin, pray for mercy, and hear for yourself Jesus’ grace-filled promise from the cross.
Holy Father, your Son hung on the cross in the place where we should have suffered. And all about us are voices of vice and violence, destruction and despair. Deliver us from the burden of our own sin and the travails of this broken world that we might, by your mercy, come to know your Son’s Reign when there is neither sorrow or sin, darkness or death but only the glory and grace, life and love of His heavenly peace. Amen.
The Third Word
Reading: John 19:25-27
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”
27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
In a time of isolation from family and friends, Jesus’ address to his mother and “the disciple whom he loved” reminds us that we are not the first who have had to entrust the care of our loved ones to another. But Jesus’ words do more than ensure care for his mother in his inevitable absence. These words establish a new family, where our bonds are no longer determined by blood lines and family trees, but rather by the Lord’s blood and the tree of the cross. Jesus leaves us each other: a new family, a body of believers, a community of mutual care and support. He wills us into intimate familiar bonds of love for one another, just as he loved us.
Think upon a brother or sister in the faith that you have not heard from for a while. Lift them up in prayer and contact them with a note, phone call, or other communication.
Holy Father, we have distorted the cradle of nurture and love that you intended in the gift of family. But through your Son, you call us to new and deeper community, no longer determined by the blood of one’s heredity but rather by the blood of the Holy One’s humanity. By your Son, gather us as the family of faith wherein we might be a blessing to one another and a beacon of holy love to a hurting world. Amen.
The Fourth Word
Reading: Mark 15:33-35
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o”clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.”
Of all the words Jesus shares on the cross, these are the most theologically significant. Our confession that Jesus takes on the fulness of humanity in the incarnation and crucifixion would be empty if He did not experience distance from his Divine nature. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he displays a unity with God so intimate that we have come to know him as Emmanuel, “God with us”. But here at the cross, Jesus is robbed of that divine union and knows what we, in the darker seasons of life, sometimes experience distance from God. In that moment, Jesus experienced the depth of our human experience that we might know we are never alone. Furthermore we can be sure that just as he willing to be with us in the depths, we can now He wills us to be with him in glory.
You may feel isolated right now, devoid of the normal support we have with family and friends. Light a candle to dispel the darkness, and remember Jesus is with you. No matter the season, especially when you feel completely alone, Jesus is with you.
Holy Father, in times of dread and despair our hearts feel lost and alone, even from your care. Strengthen us in times of trouble as we remember that you sent your Son into the depths of just such despair; that that we might not be alone in our suffering. By Jesus’ suffering on the cross, help us to know that there is no place or time, dark night of the soul or dimness of mind, so awful a death or so evil a deed that can separated us from the loving presence of your Son. As our Lord knows so fully our suffering, so in his victory bring us to know the fullness of his glory. Amen.
The Fifth Word
Reading: John 19:28-29
28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
When visiting a chapel of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Mother Teresa founded, the one image that stands out most is a large crucifix behind the altar and the stark words painted in bold, black capital letters on the wall alongside it: "I THIRST."
It is understandable that when Jesus proclaimed, 'I thirst', people thought He was thirsty in an ordinary way. But it was not just for that thirst; it was for compassion, goodness, peace, and our love. At Golgotha, Jesus was offered only sour wine to parch his thirst, but we have the opportunity to provide Him with refreshment from the finest fruits when we offer to even the least of His children the smallest kindness. This truth inspires the Sisters of Charity to dedicate their lives serving the forgotten. We are called to do the same. Do you have a cup of water to offer?
You can help! Give to support a ministry that is currently providing for the needs of others whether locally or abroad.
Holy Father, cruelty, injustice and oppression rob your children of the blessings you have provided. Your Son knew both the pains of physical need and even more deeply, the pain of all creation as we thirst for goodness, truth, purity, love and mercy to fill this world. Make our hearts open to the needs of others that we might serve Christ as we serve our neighbors. Amen.
The Sixth Word
Reading: John 19:30
30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus’ cry of finality declares that He is about to breath his last: that the hours of intense suffering are soon to end. But more significantly, Jesus is declaring the faithful completion of his ministry. Jesus came among us to be the Passover Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus’ death on the cross is the tragic but glorious culmination of God’s plan to save us from the price of our sins. Jesus has obediently paid the price for us and now can finally proclaim that our redemption has been accomplished. Our salvation is not in question. “It is accomplished.” This finality is not just an end, but a new and glorious beginning!
Your old self has been crucified with Christ, consider ways Jesus is calling you to be made new. Write them down and place them in an envelope to be opened at Easter. Pray over them in the weeks that follow.
Holy Father, in Christ’s atoning death the price has been paid for our sins. No person nor thing can undo what Christ has done for us. Our costly salvation has been freely given and established. May neither our sense of entitlement nor unworthiness, our pride nor our fears keep us from recognizing and receiving the freedom and new life Christ has accomplished for us. Amen.
The Last Word
Reading: Luke 23:44b-46
(The) sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
Jesus last words are the best words, for they mark the way of faith and the heart of all who believe. “Churches” make much of their doctrines and confessions: making faith to be about believing particular formulaic insights and theological assertions. However, faith is trust. The belief Jesus displays in His Father is complete; without conditions, assertions, proofs or even particular assurances. Jesus simply trusts and commends His Spirit into God’s embrace. Trusting God is not about our knowledge, achievements, or assurances, it is about giving up ourselves to the One who knows all Truth, is the Way, and assures us of eternal Life. God’s embracing arms await. Entrust yourself to his parental love and He will always lift you up.
Take a moment of silence to let God hold you. Slowly let the pains, fears, questions, and concerns of this time dissipate as you simply let yourself trust God’s embrace.
Holy Father, our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Make our faith confident and our trust unrelenting, that we might give all our heart, soul, and strength to lives that follow your Son and trust in your unfailing care. Help us also to die with just as firm a confidence, that when our work here is through, we might enter the joy of your embrace in peace and comforted release. Amen.
I hope you are blessed in your reflections,
In Christ’s Saving Love,