Category Archives: Seven Words from the Cross

Accomplished

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. 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.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:29-30 NRSV)

It is finished. It is all accomplished.

The death of Jesus on the cross is not a failure, but a resounding success. He has done all he has come to do.

He has lived, he has taught, he has healed, he has overcome temptation, he has borne the sin of humanity, he has forgiven, he has offered himself up once and for all.

That is why we may call it Good Friday; because through it the slate is wiped clean and humanity is redeemed.

Through the life and death of Jesus the eternal Kingdom of God is inaugurated for our place and time, and its servant King has been crowned.

But this is not the end of the story, merely the end of a chapter; for soon there will be a rising, a new creation, a new exodus, a new dawn; the dawn of a new adventure which thunders down the ages to our time – an adventure in which we may take part.

Prayer
Lord Jesus,
we have remembered the agony of your Cross.
Through it we have seen your love
and known your saving grace.
May its power guide and strengthen us throughout our lives,
and point us always to the gateway of the Kingdom;
for your Holy name’s sake.
Amen

Rest

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46 NRSV)

The ordeal is over; the crucified victim can take his rest.

Surely it wasn’t supposed to be this way? Not like this.

The one who came to reveal God’s love, to bring forgiveness, to be the promised blessing to all nations, to restore us to a loving relationship with our Creator – surely it shouldn’t have come to this?

A loving father would seek, would move heaven and earth, to protect his son from such pain and humiliation. Would not a loving God do the same?

The irony is that Jesus knew that this trial would come upon him, and he warned his followers in advance (even the previous evening); though they didn’t understand his prophecy.

But doesn’t that make God a capricious tyrant who would demand his own Son’s sacrifice as a ransom for sin?

No. Jesus, fully God and fully human, brought God’s love to a broken world freely and voluntarily. He could have walked away at any time, but thank God he didn’t because then salvation would not be ours.

Jesus was certainly a prophet. He knew God’s purposes and he knew the human heart; and he spoke of one into the other. And he did so out of love.

Jesus was also a priest, in the Old Testament sense of the word. He both offered and provided the sacrifice of himself (the unblemished Lamb of God) to atone for the sin of the world – including our own sin – for all time. And he did so out of love.

And Jesus was (and is) a king. Far from representing his humiliation, his crucifixion marked his coronation as the Servant King of the Servant Kingdom. The world is changed forever because of his love for all people, including you and me.

The ordeal is over; the crucified victim can take his rest.

Thirst

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
(John 19:28 NRSV)

Bleeding from severe wounds inflicted by the soldiers before and during his crucifixion, and exposed to the burning heat of the mid-day sun; his lungs drawing fluid into themselves as a consequence of this barbaric form of execution, it is little wonder that the dehydrating and dying Jesus complains of thirst.

The irony of the cup of suffering, from which Jesus had told his followers he must drink, is that its consequence is the deep thirst of body and soul.

As life slips away the spirit calls out to that which alone will satisfy: the healing of God himself. He who has brought healing and reconciliation to the world is now in need of God’s healing.

For what do we thirst? If it is for money, power or renown – even in a small sphere of life – then most of us will not achieve it and many will become bitter in later life. Those of us who do achieve these things may have the satisfaction, for a while, of their comforts; but we will cut ourselves off from the rest of humanity. The New Testament is clear on that. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be.

But what if we thirst for God’s Kingdom to come, and pledge ourselves to work for it? What then?

Even as Jesus stands along-side the suffering and the penitent of humanity – identifying with their lot at the hands of the powerful and loveless who believe that might, or money, or dogma is right, we may just see in his thirst, a glimpse of something that mere wine or water cannot quench.

Forsaken

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34 NRSV)

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The cry of the poor, the abandoned, the beaten, the unjustly accused, the powerless, the abused – all echoed both in the words of the 22nd Psalm and on the Cross of Christ.

Only those who have truly known the sense of wretchedness and utter isolation of the innocent victim can even begin to come to terms with the meaning of these words. To be alone in all the world, hated and despised by your enemies, whilst those you love can only watch in despair: it is the isolation of the death camp, the gulag, the disappeared.

Like many who have been dragged off in the middle of the night to be tortured and beaten and even killed, Jesus carries the burden of his isolation.

Some would say that Jesus could not suffer as we do – he’s God after all!

But this Son of God, fully human as much as he is fully divine, carries not only the burden of his human torture, he carries also the burden of human sinfulness. If Jesus is not God, then he cannot bring God’s forgiveness and salvation. If Jesus is not human, then our humanity is not redeemed.

And so even the Son of God, in his darkest hour, describes himself in the words of the psalmist who has been brought low.

Jesus genuinely knows your pain, because he has experienced it. He has known the utter desolation of feeling cut off from God.

But in using the words of the Psalmist, which he would have known by heart, Jesus offers a clue as to the eventual outcome.

For the Psalm of Lament eventually becomes a song of praise. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” eventually becomes, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

Family

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
(John 19:25-27 NRSV)

“Here is your son; here is your mother.”

Four women, and a beloved disciple, all of whom had journeyed with Jesus for at least a part of his ministry, and who now faced the grim task of witnessing his brutal execution.

How does a mother endure such a thing? And what about the other women and the beloved disciple, John? We hear no words from them; for they are powerless and silent in the face of this monstrous act.

But even here, Jesus draws them together. They are all to be a part of what must follow, though they don’t know it yet, and they need to be together to care for and support each other.

The role of the women will be to administer a final act of love and service as they bring spices to the body of Jesus on the day after the Sabbath – and it is the women who will be the very first witnesses of the resurrection truth. But that is for the future.

For now, their minds will be full of confusion: horror at the event which is unfolding before their eyes; flashbacks to the times they have spent with Jesus, the conversations they have had, the miracles they have witnessed.

Did Mary recall the words of Angels, or shepherds, or Magi over 30 years ago? Did she remember the chillingly prophetic words of Simeon, the old man in the temple who told her that a sword would pierce her soul?

Does her mind hark back to the time she lost her son for three days, only to find him in the temple, quizzing the religious experts; or does she rue the day when she was unable to intervene to take Jesus back home before he went too far with his reckless vocation?

For now it is sufficient that the dying Jesus recognises her, and his favourite disciple: the one, a widow possibly approaching the evening of her life; the other, a fiery young man who has left his father’s fishing business to follow Jesus – and Jesus commends them to each other’s care.

The King

There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:38-43 NRSV)

“This is the King of the Jews.”

During the story of Jesus’ arrest and trials a subtle change takes place in the narrative. He is arrested on a charge of blasphemy, but by the time he is nailed to the cross he has been condemned for treason against the Roman Empire. For the occupying power, there can only be one King of the Jews: Caesar.

Only one of Jesus’ crucified companions recognises that Jesus’ Kingdom is of a very different nature, and pays him homage, even as both are dying, and receives Jesus’ blessing: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Kingdom which Jesus came to inaugurate has no geographical or tribal relevance. It is a Kingdom of eternity which stretches into and beyond our own time.
The criminal who derided Jesus was looking for salvation in this life. He wanted to be saved from death. The penitent thief realised (or at least he sincerely hoped) that death was not the end of the story: that in eternity there is another dimension of life which can be shared in the presence of the true saviour.

His faith revealed that truth to him, and enabled Jesus to offer him words of comfort.
How many of us shout and shake our fists at God, or deny his existence, in the face of death, perhaps especially the death of a loved one. But the eyes of faith will allow us to see beyond our mortal life to the promise of our Lord that we will be with him in Paradise.

That knowledge changes how we see the world, how we live our lives. We live with the vision that this is not all there is, and we begin to see the glimpses of God’s Kingdom all around us.

Father, Forgive

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.
(Luke 23:33-34 NRSV)

First of all, the cross is about forgiveness.

The Incarnation of Jesus, the taking of our human flesh by God himself, was significantly about healing a relationship: the relationship between humankind and God. The God who loves and deeply respects his creation sought to restore that broken relationship.

Anyone who has experienced the breakdown of a relationship or friendship knows just how acrimonious that can turn out to be. Blame is heaped upon blame; accusations fly in all directions; only very occasionally does anyone ever say sorry; but often by then the damage is done, the trust is broken.

But saying sorry is only a part of the story. To heal a damaged or broken relationship also requires forgiveness; and true forgiveness – the setting aside of the perceived offences – is one of the toughest things we will ever have to do; because to forgive is to bear the cost and the pain of the offence, forever if necessary. Those who say “I’ll forgive but I will never forget” have not truly forgiven, but bear a grudge in their hearts which is just waiting to burst out on a future occasion.

The pain may be even more acute if the offender is not even aware of the offence. The people of Jesus’ time, just as are so many of our own time, were largely unaware of their sin, including their sin of the persecution of the one who came to show God’s love.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Forgive also acts of ignorance and carelessness – and the cost is nothing less than the pain and death of the victim.
Many in our time would see such forgiveness as a pathetic and weak stance; but it is, in fact, an act of the purest self-emptying love.