7 Last Words of Christ
The 7 Last Words of Christ give us powerful insight into His thoughts as took all the sins of mankind upon Himself. With these words, He forgives His enemies, forgives the penitent thief, cries out to God, and declares the end of His earthly life. May these brief reflections guide you in your Lenten journey.
1. Father, Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do
Every word Christ uttered and every action He took are an instruction for us, meant to teach us how to live. “Father, forgive them” is not an easy prayer to make when one has been treated unjustly, when one has been physically or emotionally injured, or when one’s dignity has been trespassed upon.
It is a prayer that demonstrates a trust in something greater than the hurt, and with trust comes detachment, and with detachment comes the ability to move on. The mystery of mercy is that so often the actions of people who have made us suffer have also, unintentionally, been the catalysts for our own victories. We have all hurt others without understanding how, or why, or to what depths. Acknowledging this can help us imitate Christ.
2. Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise
Like the thief on the cross, Jesus loves us and continues to pursue us until the end. He is not barred from the heart by the condition of the body. Christ pursues the thief and the liar and the alcoholic, just as He pursues the priest and the giver. He seeks us, undeterred, asking only that we believe in Him. Even for those who have spent all of their lives running from Him, He doesn’t give up.
During Lent, as we reflect on the Death of Our Lord, we remember that even when the body has all but ceased to function, and the mind is seemingly asleep, Jesus persists, offering the promise of the Cross and the assurance of paradise. As He was with the thief on the Cross in His final moments, Jesus is there in our own physical or spiritual deaths, ready to take us home, whispering, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Even when the body is no longer able to respond to earthly stimuli, Jesus stirs the spirit.
3. Woman, Behold Your Son. Son, Behold Your Mother
Mary is not alone at Calvary; John, the beloved apostle, is with her. This faithful man stands for each of us at the Crucifixion. He is there at the end, ready to love Christ, while all others flee from the Cross. John did not succumb to avarice as Judas did, nor to fear as Peter did, nor to distraction as we often do. John did not follow the serpent into the darkness, but stayed in the light of Christ. During Lent, we must seek refuge at the feet of the Crucified Christ. John knows this and for his faith on Good Friday, Jesus rewards him.
Jesus, with some of His final words, extends perfect filial love; He provides for His mother. He honors her by entrusting her to the beloved apostle, and him to her. John, who forsook the world to follow Christ, now has Mary as a mother. He has gained everything. Where John has gained, we have gained also. Christ has given Mary to us to be our mother and we are now her children.
4. My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?
“There is no one left, Jesus,” mocks Gesmas the thief. A moment of profound loneliness follows, when Jesus does not experience even the Father’s love. Satan now attempts to strip Christ of His relationship with the Father. But when Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Satan is furious. No one bothers to cry out to one who is not listening. The cry of Jesus, desolate as it is, makes clear that He is still communicating with His Father.
Jesus knows what you know and has experienced it. He knows the heart-wrenching pain of feeling as if God was absent in the moment of His greatest suffering. That knowledge is why we ought to keep following Him. There is no life without suffering. Knowing that God knows that and putting Himself in a place where we would have to go makes us feel His love is real and true.
5. I Thirst
From the moment He dies, Jesus is satiating His thirst, not from a physical cup, but for the most precious of God’s creation: our souls. He descends into Hell, opens the gates of Heaven, returns to his disciples to reveal the glory of the Resurrection, and prepares them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and his Church. In all of His actions, He clearly seeks a spiritual satiation.
Jesus thirsts for all souls and so, it follows, Jesus must thirst for your soul. He cries out from the Cross at the precious moment in time that He saves all. Christ cries out, not in triumph or pity or anger at the injustice of God dying for men. He cries out in desire that all might know His mercy and rest in Him.
6. It Is Finished
The Greek word tetelestai literally translates as “it is complete” or “it is accomplished” and at first reflection it seems that Jesus was letting out a cry of defeat when He uttered these final words upon the Cross. However, this was actually a cry of love and triumph at the moment of death.
Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect fulfillment, the apex of human freedom. It is the accomplishment of all that freedom promises. It is the unfathomably deep and powerful expression of that love which is the very substance of God’s being. Christ’s sacrifice is linked inextricably with His identity. His sacrifice is the consummation of all of salvation history. From Adam to Abraham, from Moses to David, from Isaiah to John the Baptist, everyone looks ahead to Christ.
7. Father, Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit
On the Cross before His last breath, Jesus dedicates and commits himself to the will of His Father, and we, as Catholics, are called to do the same everyday as well. Each day we are called to pray, just as Jesus did, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” We are called to daily conversion, to turn toward God again and again and say, “Yes, I am yours. Help me to follow Your will for me.”
Too often it’s easy to imitate St. Peter’s denial, if not in deed than by inaction. Christ died for us in public, suffering humiliation for a crime he didn’t commit. By reuniting ourselves each day with Christ’s love, we are given the opportunity to live our lives for Him, not just in the safety of our houses or our thoughts, but publicly, for everyone to see.
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