These reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Word were published in the bulletin for Good Friday. We thank all the writers from our congregation who shared them: First Word: Paul Wasserman; Second Word: The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler; Third Word: Christopher Truitt; Fourth Word: Crystal Rowe; Fifth Word: Robin Carlo; Sixth Word: Mary Meader; Seventh Word: The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler. We also thank the readers who assisted in reading these for our Good Friday Service: Abby Johnson, Don Johnson and Martha Johnson. You may view the Good Friday service on our Facebook page.
THE FIRST WORD Luke 23:34
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 know not what they do.
The first reflection is a poem by Paul Wasserman
Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do
How were they to know
They had never seen a God before
He did not descend from Mount Olympus
They could not see the glowing halo
His words were opaque
They listened but they did not understand
He was just another Son of David
They could not feel the depth
From where His Soul emerged
It was a place unknown for thousands of years
The world could not contain this Spirit
So on this day the Heavens opened
And in that moment
A great and invisible Light
Surrounded the world
He was already growing away from us
Returning to His Father
He became the fountain
He became the fountainhead
He left without anger
He left without sadness or regret
He pleaded at the end
He understood their ignorance
He was transformed
He became Pure Spirit
And Pure Love
THE SECOND WORD Luke 23:43
One of the criminals said to him: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” “He replied, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
The second reflection is written by The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – Luke 23:43
Some things are hard to talk about. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of them. Words
seem too glib, too rational, and insufficiently sublime to speak of this brutal event which is a central part of our faith. However, these words from the cross are filled with hope and assurance.
Jesus directs His words to the criminal on his side, who has just confessed that he was deserving of his fate, and in an expression of faith asks, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” There was only God’s mercy and grace to be trusted here. That was all that was needed. I rely on that.
Further, Jesus gave him a promise of something wonderful, but frankly, we cannot know exactly what Paradise is like. But doesn’t the man go from utter suffering, and a life wasted, to peace and comfort and wholeness, and….all that paradise means.
Most important, it is not an isolated waiting room to get into heaven, but it is graced by Jesus’ presence. “You will be with me.” What greater comfort to not only be with the one who has eternity in His power, but is the one “Who loved us and gave himself for us.”
Some things are hard to talk about. When I talk about my own dying, my children will have none of it. When you get to my age it is something that is hard to ignore. Now in the presence of a virus that could well be lethal to someone like me, it is inescapable. I wish I could give my children more comfort. Val has suggested I write them a letter.
I want to tell them I am okay with dying. Ever since my college days when I put aside my personal goals to serve the Lord, I have counted on the assurance that someday I would be “with Him in Paradise.” I believe that promise. That’s all I need.
THE THIRD WORD John 19 26:27
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
The third reflection is by Christopher Truitt.
We think of Him:
on the cross.
while darkness spread
across the world.
Think of her, as well,
standing at his feet
— her pain, like his,
when he called to her:
woman, see your son!
Then, deeper dread
touched the heart,
shadow of a prophecy:
When he was yet a boy
they had presented him
before the priests
and she had heard:
a sword shall pierce your soul.
Now, even priests abandoned him,
accused him of some travesty
that he was never party to…
She had watched him
play the games that children will,
fed him breakfast every day,
clothed his tender body,
made him ready for the world;
then, later followed him
along a troubled path
when he began his ministry.
Now, she was disciple
to her tortured Lord,
yet stayed his mother still,
desired to dress, with balm,
those open wounds.
O, this trial of motherhood!
this rending of the cloth
of love for God
and love for child.
Jesus looked across
the mist of death,
found her standing by the side
of his beloved friend.
Man, behold your mother
he commanded at the last
because of what she gave to him,
would give to all his church:
a love that never fails
for those who bear his life
from womb to grave.
THE FOURTH WORD Matthew 27:46
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?”That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The fourth reflection is by Crystal Rowe.
As I write this, we’re on the third day of cold, rainy, dreary weather. As if it’s not enough to have the world on lockdown, now I can’t even enjoy the yard and woods that surround my house. More than once over the last week have I thought these same words … “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why does it feel like the world is caving in?
Why don’t you do something to stop it?
Why can’t you use your powers to push evil away?
Why can’t you just give us a few weeks of sunshine to help us pull through this awful, unbelievable time we’re leaving in?
As I reflect on my own situation, as I reflect on this weird time we find ourselves living right now, I’m drawn to the image of Mary at the foot of the cross. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to see your son, dying in your midst, and knowing there was absolutely nothing you could do to prevent it, or to even make it a little more palatable?
I think about those overwhelmed healthcare workers on the front lines, in overwhelmed hospitals, and the gut-wrenching decisions they are having to make. The ones who have to sit by and watch people die, knowing there’s nothing they can do to ease their pain, and the pain of those who love them.
Maybe you, like me, have had those times over the last few weeks where you’ve just felt helpless. I’ve always understood living out faith as a call to action … a call to DO something to make life easier for those who find themselves in tough places. A call to be present with those who find themselves struggling. And yet here we are, in a time where the call to action is “Don’t go do anything. Don’t be present with anyone but your immediate family. Just stay home.”
It’s no wonder that we may be feeling that God is forsaking us in this strange time. It feels like everything we’ve ever learned about how to live out our faith is being challenged right now. Like Jesus on the cross, we’re wondering why God doesn’t just reach out and DO something. Why doesn’t good prevail over evil?
Isn’t that the real struggle with Good Friday? It’s a truly painful day. A day when we see this Jesus that we have grown to know and love hanging on a cross, because of nothing other than his Goodness. A day when we get a glimpse of his own inner struggle, his own pain, his own anger that evil wins this match.
Of course, we know the end to the story – we know that Good prevails. That God prevails. We know God does reach out and act – and that moment is even more glorious than the one that we long for.
And because I know the end of the story, I can feel comforted by the fact that even Jesus wondered why he had been forsaken. I can feel comforted by his pain and uncertainty. Comforted by his willingness to die – alone – on the cross, so that he had a full and complete experience of what it means to be truly human.
On this Good Friday like no other we’ve lived before, Jesus is not simply present with us, but he is here, living it with us. Today, as we remember him dying on the cross, as we remember his crying out to God, may we feel comforted in our own cries of mourning and anger.
My God, My God, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!
THE FIFTH WORD John 19: 28
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
This reflection is by Robin Carlo
I am thirsty, says Jesus. Jesus is thirsty? Jesus, who just a few weeks ago on the third Sunday of Lent, offered living water to the woman at the well, is thirsty? What happened to “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,”? John 4:14 appears to promise not only an end to all thirst, but the gift of eternal life. Yet now, the purveyor of endlessly quenching water is professing thirst and is moments from death. How can this be?
Perhaps the answer is found in the previous utterance. Within the seven last words of Christ, “I am thirsty” is rightly sandwiched between “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and “It is finished”. When Jesus cries out in thirst, he is, or at least he feels, forsaken by God. No longer connected to the source of living water and eternal life, Jesus is thirsty and dying. The vinegar he is offered cannot quench his thirst, and neither could a bottle of Gatorade or a cup of well water. As it was for the woman at the well, and as it is for each of us, only living water will satisfy our thirst. The good news is (and where there is Jesus there is always good news), the “spring of water gushing up to eternal life” is our Easter gift from God who loves us always and all ways.
THE SIXTH WORD John 19: 30
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.”
This reflection is by Mary Meader.
As I sat down to write a few thoughts on this Good Friday…. a Good Friday unlike no other in memory, my thoughts and ponderings deepened. I resisted, as I always do, spending much time on this part of the Holy Week observance…. this most central symbol of our faith tradition…the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus. I so much prefer the joyous Easter rituals as emblematic of my Christian Faith believing as St. Augustine suggests that “We Christians are Easter people and Alleluia is our song. Yes, I am most comfortable there, but Good Friday I continue to resist. And yet I know that Easter and Good Friday are but two pieces of a whole. That one cannot exist without the other.
And so here we are at the cross. Once more. But I still have my old familiar Holy Week questions though now with a deepened, sobering imperative and relevance given our strange and disorienting times.: What is it all about? How will this strange time of struggle end? Why the crucifixion? How did Jesus endure his pain and struggle? How do we endure the fear and uncertainty …? our daily focus on death numbers? My questions are the same but now they have a new urgency, a deeper relevance about them. ”
We have before us is a graphic image of Jesus hanging on the cross in full humanity praying… I imagine even begging,.. for deliverance, for it all to be over. And then in a willing acceptance, a final letting go, surrendering to his sacrifice…he whispers or maybe even cries out…we don’t know…”IT IS FINISHED”. I wonder what he was thinking, and who heard him. What was he feeling?
I imagine also crowds of people watching the unfolding spectacle of executions…watching perhaps in horror, or disbelief, in confusion or weeping in grief and despair or maybe just plain curiosity, simply standing by uncomprehending and detached. The image before us is one central to our faith for it precedes Easter…In my Holy Week ponderings, I return over and over to how I might better bear witness to Jesus’ life and death in my own living and dying?
Jesus spent all his time with us teaching us about love, about how to love, about just actions and right relationships, about what to love, how to love and the way to live. Was he thinking about Love, I wonder? Was he wondering if they understood and would they carry his love with them? Was he thinking about all those souls he loved and who loved him? Perhaps as one of my beloved mentors once suggested in a Good Friday homily, he was looking out at all the people watching and saying to himself and perhaps to his Father/God…I have loved you all as much as I could and I have taught you all that I know, all that my Father has taught me and now I am done, ‘It is finished” Love one another as I have loved you.
And so, I wonder where in my Good Friday imagining do I stand? I cannot just be an Easter person because I am comfortable there or because it is easy; I must also be standing and watching on Good Friday remembering that Jesus taught us how it is that pain and struggle comes before the new is born, before we are given the Good News. How…even in the midst of pain and struggle we need to trust in the Love that endures.
Lord, Jesus Christ,
as we kneel at the foot of your cross,
help us to see and know your love for us,
so that we may place at your feet
all that we have and are.
THE SEVENTH WORD Luke 23:46
Then Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
This reflection is by The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler
It feels nearly impossible to face the suffering of Jesus in this moment. It is no surprise that Holy Week services are never as well attended as is the Easter service. We want to look away from such suffering.
Yet, living in this time of ‘social isolation,’ we have been stripped of our usual distractions. We have been forced to face our own mortality. On this Good Friday 2020, there is no looking away from the suffering of Jesus or our own.
Jesus was betrayed, and brutally crucified. Yet despite it all, Jesus was able to utter these words, “Into your hands I commend, my spirit.” Other translations put it this way: ”Into your hands I entrust my life,” or “Father, I put my life in your hands.”
I believe that in, the only way we can face our final days in peace, is by entrusting God with our lives every single day. As I place my life, and the lives of those I love, in God’s hands I am following the example of Jesus. He has gone before us in all things.
When I am able to do this, I am able to face and release my fears and doubts for this life and the next. Pastor Erwin Lutze wrote, “We will meet Him there, because we have met him here.”
On this Good Friday, let this last verse of the hymn, “Abide with Me,” become our prayer:
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.