When we think of Jesus on the Cross we think of him dying, but often we forget the Gospels tell us that he hung upon the Cross for three hours and during those hours he spoke on seven distinct occasions. These seven occasions are called the seven last words. Lent is an opportunity for us to meditate on these last words spoken by Our Blessed Lord and to apply them to our own lives.
• “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34; Matt 27:46).
This phrase is a direct quote from Psalm 22. During his dying agony on the Cross, Our Blessed Lord prayed. He used the familiar words of the psalms to help him express his anguish and feeling of abandonment by God. This first word reminds us of how deeply Jesus took on our sufferings. He allowed himself to experience fully the terrible feeling we can sometimes live through of being forgotten by everyone and even by God. Jesus entered this sorrow so that when we in our turn experience such suffering we will know that Jesus has been there before us and by uniting ourselves to him in such moments we immediately know that we are not alone and not abandoned.
• “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
As Jesus was dying he was still filled with love. He had no hatred in his heart. Not only did he pray for the forgiveness of those who were executing him but he excused them by saying they did not realise what they were doing.
• “This day you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
This word spoken to “the good thief” shows clearly that Jesus knew that he was not dying in vain; he knew that his death was our salvation. By his dying he was opening the way to eternal life for all who turn to him. The gates he opened on that Good Friday remain still opened for each of us.
• “Woman behold your son. Son behold your mother” (Jn 19:26-27).
Jesus’ parting gift to each of us on our journey through life and suffering is the very same gift that he himself experienced as he went through his last suffering, the presence of his beloved Mother. As Mary was with Jesus she is also always with us. As Mary walked with Jesus the whole way to Calvary, she walks with us through this bitter valley of tears. As she did not abandon her beloved son she will never abandon us.
• “I thirst” (Jn 19:28).
Indeed Jesus was thirsty during his last agony but to fully understand this word of Jesus you must see that the only other time he used this word in St John’s Gospel was when he spoke with the woman at the well in Chapter 4. In that scene he says to the woman that he is thirsty and she is puzzled that he a Jew would ask her a Samaritan for a drink of water. But then he says to her “if you only knew the gift of God and who it is that says to you “I thirst” you would ask him and he would give you living water” (Jn 4:7-10). Here on the Cross Jesus is giving us the living water that wells up into eternal life. When his heart is pierced by the lance we are told that blood and water came forth. Jesus is saying to all of us that he thirsts for us and that all we have to do is to go to him and he will satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts to be loved and healed. On the Cross Christ’s thirsting for us is God’s answer to all our deepest thirsts in life.
• “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Here again we have Jesus praying from the psalms. The familiar prayers which Jesus used every day of his life become his own personal prayers. He is no longer simply praying – he has become prayer.
• “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).
[Jesus has obeyed the Father the whole way; we need to obey the Father's loving will all the way, too.] For Jesus his Father’s will was everything and now he has fulfilled it perfectly. At the beginning of the Bible we see how our first parents Adam and Eve had refused to do God’s will and had chosen to go their own way. Now Jesus has cancelled out their disobedience by his obedience. Again God and humanity are in full communion. The long night of sin is ended and God and his human family are in full communion. The long night of sin is ended and God and his human family are again at peace. The work which Jesus came to do in his humanity is now finished; he has said a total and absolute YES to the Father.
These seven last words of Jesus must become our words in our relationship with God. No matter what we are going through these words guide us to a deeper and closer communication with God.
- This article by John Harris OP was published in Saint Martin Magazine, issue March 2011. For subscriptions etc. please contact: Saint Martin Apostolate, 42 Parnell Square, Dublin 1, Ireland