Grace to you and peace. In this most unusual of Holy Weeks, I want to offer you a series of reflections based on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. As you will see, these “Seven Last Words” are not actually words – they are really phrases. And one might point out that they are not even the last words that Jesus speaks. After he is raised from the dead, he speaks to his disciples. And after his ascension, he speaks to Paul, and then through the Holy Spirit to all Christians. But, still, these are the last words Jesus speaks from the cross, and they hold a unique place in the church’s life. And so it is good to pause, wherever you are as you read this, placing yourself in faith at the foot of the cross, and reflect again on these poignant words that Jesus speaks to all who would hear.
We long for the joy of Easter and the resurrection. But Easter means nothing without the great sacrifice made on Good Friday. And remembering this sacrifice makes the resurrection that much more meaningful and amazing. So, let us linger at the place where the trajectory of humanity’s story and destiny was forever changed. And let us listen again to the words which our crucified and risen Savior would speak to us.
The First Word: Luke Chapter 23:33-38
When 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. Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And 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!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”Luke 23:33-38
It is forgiveness that gives us the courage to gather at the foot of the cross, and to reflect on these last words that our Lord spoke from the cross. And so, it is fitting that the first of these last words would be: “Father, forgive them …”
These are words spoken to us, but only after we have accepted that we need this word of forgiveness spoken to us. And that means that we must accept that we crucified Jesus. We must accept that it is our sin that nailed him to the cross. It is our sins that he died to forgive. Our sins against the Father which cost His only-begotten Son His life.
As Martin Luther said: “You should deeply believe, and never doubt, that in fact you are the one who killed Christ. Your sins did this to Him … When you look at the nails being driven through His hands, firmly believe that it is your work … When you see nails driven through the hands and feet of Christ, know that you should be suffering this for all eternity, with even more painful nails.”
Embracing this truth makes it almost impossible to do what we are doing right now, to remember that Jesus died on a cross for us. And it would be impossible if it were not for this first word spoken by him, “Father, forgive them …”
Encouraged by this word, we listen again to these words, “with the ears of our heart,” as St. Benedict put it. For Jesus really did die for us, to forgive us our sins. We may not have known what we were doing when we committed those sins which nailed our Lord to the cross. But he knew what he was doing when he accepted the cross to forgive us our sins. “Father, forgive them …”
Father, forgive us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Take some time in silence to reflect on the gift of your forgiveness, and give thanks in prayer for this gift …