Meditations on THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS given on Good Friday, March 21, 2008, at Wooddale Lutheran Church by Pastor Tim Rauk.
THE FIRST WORD — Luke 23:33-34
When they came to the place called “The Skull”, they nailed Jesus to the cross there, and the two criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said “Forgive them, Father! They do not know what they are doing.”
Meditation on the First Word
“I didn’t know what I was doing”
It’s a common excuse we use it to justify our actions, — but it doesn’t work. “I was only following orders” is not much different from “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Jesus would have been justified in raging at those who nailed him to the cross, or at least turned away in indifference to them as they mocked him and jeered him. Instead, he prayed for them: prayed that God would forgive them. He allowed them their excuse, “I didn’t know what I was doing”; the excuse they no doubt articulated to God as they entered God’s eternal Kingdom. Only now, with tears in their eyes, they no doubt addressed Jesus, saying, “My God. I didn’t know what I was doing. Please forgive me. If only I had known.”
What amazing compassion, that Jesus, in his pain and agony, could look into their hearts, and know how totally sorry they, someday, would be. And so, he said, long before they would realize it’s power, he prayed, as he had taught: “love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus was put to the test, and he came through. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
And, no doubt, God did.
THE SECOND WORD — Luke 23:39-43
One of the criminals hanging there threw insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying: “Don’t you fear God? Here we are all under the same sentence. Ours, however, is only right, for 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 tell you this: Today you will be in Paradise with me.”
Meditation on The Second Word
There’s a part of us all that is like the first thief: Quick to anger – feeling sorry for ourselves, wishing God would snap his fingers and make things right – even when we are the ones who made it wrong. How easy it is to cry “save me” and to rail against God, expecting a magic cure; almost feeling entitled to a miraculous recovery, with legions of angels at my beck and call, to take away my pain. That’s when it’s all so easy to scorn the Messiah, to mock the goodness of the world , and condemn the light of the world because we don’t want to accept responsibility for what we have done?
But when all our whining is done, we know, don’t we, that when all this is over when the suffering is finished, God will have the final word. That’s the part in us that is like the compassionate thief, that recognizes God in the world; who recognizes our complicity in our sin, who asked for nothing more than to be remembered; who simply asked of Jesus: Remember when you come in to your kingdom.” And to that one who sought good – a promise was given: “Today, you will be in paradise with me.”
THE THIRD WORD — John 19:25-27
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, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time the disciple took her to live in his home.
Meditation on the Third Word
Who can comprehend the grief? the grief of Mary watching her son suffer? the grief of Mary watching him die? As is often the case, the pain of the one who suffers is multiplied by watching someone he loves suffer because of that suffering. Jesus suffered because he saw his mother suffering. What could he possible do, to minimize that suffering? What could he offer when he is gone?
Jesus found hope and comfort in exactly the same way we continue to embrace hope and comfort when we are separated from people we love. Jesus could help her, and hold her, and comfort her and honor her, because he had made connections with others who would step in and carry on the relationship.
“Woman, here is your son” Here is one I love, to love you, and for you to love. One who knows me; one who is my brother and who can speak of me. One Who can hold you, comfort you, and honor you and share your grief
And to John: “Here is your mother” Here is one I love, for you to love, and to love you. The one who taught me, the one who fed me, the one who wiped away my tears the one who hugged me, the one who grieves with you. Women, behold your children; children, behold your mothers.
THE FOURTH WORD — Mark 15:33-34
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, elo-i, lama sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Meditation on the Fourth Word
At first, it sounds like only a cry of doubt and despair. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus had every right to feel alone, BUT Jesus knew someone who had gone through almost exactly what he was going through. Jesus knew the scripture. More specifically, Jesus knew the Psalms and he knew Psalm 22, a psalmist who began his Psalm expressing exactly what Jesus was going through.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, I cry out by day, but you do not answer; The people are like a pack of dogs closing in on me; piercing my hands and my feet. They laugh at me “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD deliver; let God rescue him if God so delights in him.”
But the real focus of Psalm 22, is that comfort and hope and promises of God are with us in the midst of our suffering.
Psalm 22 also says:
Our ancestors put their trust in you, and you rescued them. They trusted in you and you delivered them. You are the one who drew me forth from the womb, and kept me safe on my mother’s breast. I have been entrusted to you ever since before I was born. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; the nations shall bow before God. God will deliver people yet unborn.
Forsaken: that’s what he felt. But safe in God’s eternal love – Jesus knew and felt that as well.
THE FIFTH WORD — John 19:28
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.”
Meditation on the Fifth Word
Death by crucifixion is not a quiet death. A cross is an instrument of torture. It’s easy to understand Jesus cry for water, that one most basic earthly element so basic to existence – necessary in keeping our bodies functioning. Water would have been about the only thing that could bring Jesus some relief, some small bit of hope to his suffering.
But maybe, once again, Jesus is finding comfort and hope in the Psalms. Psalm 63 begins, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Did these words from Psalm 63 go through Jesus mind? I believe so. Jesus knew the promises of God, of streams in the desert, of mighty rivers in the dry land, of living water to wash away every tear. And so, to say “I thirst” was probably more a statement of hope than anything else.
THE SIXTH WORD — John 19:29-30
A 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 Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Meditation on the Sixth Word
A sigh of relief? Maybe. A cry of deliverance? Maybe. A relief that the suffering is ended. Probably all of these. When all there is, is pain its ceasing is a great blessing even when its ceasing comes only with death.
But with those understandable feels, I think there is more here than merely saying, “it is over”. Maybe a part of what Jesus is saying is: “it is accomplished, fulfilled, achieved” This is not a cry of defeat and despair. It is a cry of success and triumph. The race has been run, and Jesus endured to the end.
Jesus’ cry is a cry of relief to be sure, but it is also a cry of victory: “The work I came to do is complete”. There is nothing more to add “it is finished”
THE SEVENTH WORD — Luke 23:46
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Meditation on the Seventh Word
What’s it like, to come to the end? It remains a mystery to us, doesn’t it? Many of us have walked up to that line, we call the end, with people we love. We have prayed with them, and held their hand, and expressed our love. But to cross that line remains for us, a mystery. Crossing that final line remains something we all have to do by ourselves. We will all do it. It’s a part of life, this thing we call death. We can talk about it, and imagine it. But when all is said and done, it remains a mystery, and something we’ll have to do by ourselves.
Or will we?
Maybe Jesus had it right. We don’t cross that final line alone. More than anything else in life, it’s something we give over to God.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
I love the ancient Christian prayer, “May the journey of our loved one into eternity, be a peaceful and joyful one.” And when we commit our spirit, or very life itself to God:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”