Seven Last Words of Jesus

 In a past that is still part of many of our memories this particular Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, was reserved for the pageantry of Palm Sunday. Then there was a clear understanding that as the work week ended, on Friday, with the encouragement of their employers, people would participate in the somber worship experience that focused on Jesus’ crucifixion. Such a discipline, unfortunately, went out of practice. So, now, on this Sunday preceding Easter, we acknowledge what has become ‘the Triumphal Entry’ and focus our attention on the concluding events of Jesus’ earthly life. Otherwise, going from celebration to celebration we miss completely the passion of Holy Week. 



Hymn 549 Near the Cross (first three verses)

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.”

Words about the First Word

“They do not know what they are doing”

They do not know? They …who killed Jesus?

Who is “they”?


It is so easy to name others

to blame others

the Romans

the crowd

Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas

they all played their part

and conspired against Jesus

or simply followed orders to maintain the peace

to keep Jesus’ kingdom from infringing on theirs.


And yet where are we when Jesus’ kingdom infringes on ours?

on our peace and our order?

on our prosperity and our security?


Where are we when the victims of our peace cry for justice?

when those disenfranchised by our order call for compassion?

when the hungry and the lonely beg us to share our prosperity

     our security

     our power?

Where are we when Christ is crucified among us?


Surely he should have raged

at the sinners who nailed him to the tree.

Surely he should have raged at us for our complicity, both in what we do

and what we fail to do.

Yet compassion is there in the first words that Jesus utters

He intercedes for us before the Almighty.


It is compassion that compelled him to the cross

compassion that brings incredible, unbelievable grace

Compassion that echoes through the centuries

     to all who participate in the killing of Christ:

Compassion that cries out from the cross:

     “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”



Hymn 212 What Wonderous Love Is This

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.”


Words About the Second Word

How much are we like the first thief?

Full of anger – because we are not rescued from our sin?

Full of hate – because we suffer because of the sins of others?


How much do we want God to snap fingers

And make right what we have made wrong?

What we have allowed others to make wrong?


How easy it is to cry “save us”

and to rail against God

when there is no magic cure

no miraculous recovery

no legions of angels

to take away our pain and bring us wholeness.


How easy it is to scorn the Messiah,

to mock the goodness of the world

and condemn the light of the world

because we are unwilling to face who we are?


Yet there is goodness

There is a cure for sin

a cure that does not promise magical solutions

but promises that the pain of sin is not the end,

that when all this is over

when the suffering is finished

that the final word is not torture and defeat

but life — life springing out of the ashes

life transformed and fulfilled in God’s kingdom.


To the compassionate thief

To the one who could still recognize the good in the world

To the one who tried to comfort and protect that good

To the one who sought good — Comfort was given

“Today, you will be in paradise with me.”



Chorus 822 “Jesus Remember Me” (three times)

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.

Words About the Third Word

What grief! Who can grasp it?

the grief of a mother watching her son suffer?

the grief of Mary watching Jesus die?


And who can grasp the grief of the son?

The son who, helplessly, must see his mother mourn?


What gift can a man give his mother?

What can he offer when he is gone?

How can he help her?

Hold her?

Comfort her?

Honor her?


“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;

One who shares your grief


“Here is your mother”


Here is one I love, for you to love, and to love you.

The one who gave me life,

the one who fed me, taught me,

who wiped away my tears

who hugged me,

the one who grieves with you.


Women, behold your children; children, behold your mothers.



Hymn 534 Draw Me Nearer (verses 1 and 2 )

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?”

Words About the Fourth Word

Of all the agony of that tortuous day

the lacerations of the scourging

the chafing of the thorns around his head

the convulsions of his tormented, dehydrated body

as it hung in the heat all the day

Nothing reaches the depth of this anguished cry of desolation

“My God, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?”


Jesus, who found his purpose and strength in the presence of God

who was sustained by the immediacy of his relationship with God

and who endured all by the tangible power of God always at work

within him ,

always a center of vitality and peace,

found himself totally alone on the cross.


Jesus, whose very being was God,

found himself utterly,



cut off from all that gives life and breath

cut off from all that gives purpose and hope

cut off from the source of his being

cut off, even from himself

plumbing the depths of the human condition

to walk in the place of the utter absence of God,

in the place of sinners

in the place of those who reject God.


“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”


There is no despair so deep

no evil so overwhelming

no place so far removed from joy, light, and love

from the very heart of God

where God has not been before us,

and where God cannot meet us

and from which God cannot bring us home.



HYMN 221:   “O Sacred Head”                 

THE FIFTH WORD                                            John 19:28

     After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said

     (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.”

Words About the Fifth Word

There is a kind of timelessness about hanging on a cross.

It is not a quiet death,

over in an instant in one glorious moment of martyrdom

like being torn apart by lions.

A cross is much more an instrument of torture

than it is a gallows from which to hang,


And as the day wears on

seconds stretch into minutes which stretch into hours

until there comes a point when time can no longer be measured

except in the gradual weakening of the body

and its ever more insistent demands

for that substance which is so vital to life

so foundational to all living things

so basic to existence as we know it: — water.


Water to moisten a parched mouth

Water to free a swollen tongue

Water to open a rasping throat that cannot gasp enough air.

Water to keep hope alive

to keep life alive just a few moments longer.


Water, to a crucified man, is life.


“O God, thou art my God, I seek thee,

my soul thirsts for thee;

my flesh faints for thee

as in a dry and weary land where no water is.”


Who can tell if these words from Psalm 63 went through Jesus mind

but a thirst for water is a thirst for life

and a thirst for life is a thirst for God

who promises streams in the desert

mighty rivers in the dry land

and living water to wash away every tear.


Here, at the end of it all those promises seem far away, –


And yet Jesus – forsaken by God

still clings to the memory and the hope of life.


“I thirst.”



Hymn 216 Beneath The Cross Of Jesus

THE SIXTH WORD                                       John 19:29-30

     A bowl was there, full of cheap wine mixed with vinegar, so

     a sponge was soaked in it, put on stlk of hyssop and lifted

     up to his lips. When Jesus had received the wine, he said,

     “It is finished”;

Words About the Sixth Word

What a sigh of relief!

What a cry of deliverance,

that finally,

after seemingly endless pain

and gasping torment,

it is over at last.

The suffering is ended.

The ordeal is finished

and nothing remains

but the blessed peace of the absence of all sensation.


When all there is, is pain

its ceasing is the greatest blessing of all

even when its ceasing comes only with death.


But Jesus’ cry is more than just welcoming the ending of pain

it is more than joy at the deliverance death brings.


He does not merely say, “it is over”

he says, “it is accomplished,




Jesus’ cry isn’t a cry of defeat and despair


It is a cry of success and triumph

– even at the moment of death –

that the race has been run

that he has endured to the end

that the strife is over

and the battle is won.


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”



Hymn 678 In the Bulb There Is A Flower              

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.

Words About the Seventh Word

It is the end, the very end

the end of the ordeal

the end of the suffering

and Jesus

alone on the cross



abandoned by his friends

forsaken by God

gasps for a last breath

and gathers the strength for one final cry.


Why would he choose to speak

so close to the end?

Why would he muster the last energy he had

to cry out with a loud voice?

Couldn’t God have heard his thoughts?


Unless God wasn’t the only one intended to hear.

Unless his voice was pitched loud

so that we too might hear this final dedication of his soul.


A dedication made despite the pain,

     despite the mocking,

     despite the agony,

     despite the sense of horrible aloneness he felt.


A dedication made to God

     before the resurrection,

     before the victory of the kingdom,

     before any assurance other than that

     which faith could bring.


Jesus entrusts his spirit — his life —

     and all that has given it meaning —

     to God in faith,

even at the point of his own abandonment

when the good seems so very far away

he proclaims his faith in God,

the darkness cannot overcome it.


“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit”



HYMN: “Were You There”                                

BENEDICTION May the grace of Christ Jesus which renews us daily, the love of God which calls us to love even the world, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit which unites us as God’s own people, enable you to be living testimonies to the peace and joy of God’s kingdom within you.



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