April 15, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

A meditation on the seven last words of Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last” (Lk 23:44-46).

The date for this column is April 15, Good Friday. In observance of this holy day, the following is a meditation on what are traditionally known as the “seven last words” uttered by our Lord as he was dying on the Cross. There are different versions of this devotion, but the utterances quoted below are all found in one or more of the Passion narratives contained in the four Gospels.

First Word: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
There is an old saying: To err is human. To forgive is divine. Forgiveness is one of the things that sets our God apart from all the other gods. Although he was treated most cruelly and unfairly, and suffered the most painful and humiliating death imaginable, Jesus revealed his divinity in his willingness to forgive those (including all of us) who were responsible for his Passion and death.

Second Word: Today you will be with me in paradise.
Christ took upon himself the sins of the world for one reason: to save all of us from the power of sin and death so that we might be united with him forever in heaven. The criminal who was crucified with Jesus, and asked to be remembered when Christ entered his kingdom, stands for all of us. We are the reason for the crucifixion, but if we repent and believe in him, when the time comes, Christ will welcome us into our heavenly home.

Third Word: Woman, behold your Son. Son, behold your Mother.
Christ bestowed two gifts to us on the cross. First, and foremost, he gave himself to us and thereby won for us redemption and the assurance of eternal life with him. But Jesus also gave us the incomparable gift of his own mother, Mary. She is now our mother, the tender and loving advocate who accompanies us on our life’s journey. Mary inspires us, comforts us and gives us a share in her courage and fidelity. What a marvelous gift! What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate her goodness and constancy!

Fourth Word: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
We know that Jesus was not abandoned by his Father or the Holy Spirit at the hour of his death, but it’s easy to see how his human nature, weighed down by the knowledge of the sins of all humanity—past, present, and future—could feel forsaken by God. May we never lose sight of how much our Redeemer sacrificed for our salvation. Not only did he suffer excruciating physical pain, but his mental and emotional anguish must have been unimaginable. Lord, have mercy on us sinners.

Fifth Word: I thirst.
The thirst suffered by Jesus was more than his human body’s need for hydration. It was also his divine nature’s longing for the reconciliation of all humankind with each other and with God. On the cross, Christ longed for peace and justice, for love and mercy. He thirsted for the consolation of God poured out on all the warring factions and self-centered peoples of the Earth. He longs for this even now as we continue to sin and to war among ourselves.

Sixth Word: It is finished.
The work that Jesus came to do as Emmanuel (God-with-us) was accomplished by his Passion, death and resurrection. Each one of us is invited to share intimately in the redemptive work of Jesus by denying ourselves, taking up our individual crosses and following him. We are blessed not only to be the beneficiaries of Christ’s saving action, but also to be his missionary disciples called to proclaim to the whole world this same Jesus Christ who was crucified for us.

Seventh Word: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
At the end of our lives, each of us will be asked to imitate Jesus and turn ourselves (body and soul) over to God. We cannot hold anything back—certainly not our material possessions, but not even our secret thoughts and emotions. All will be handed over, and we will be held accountable for everything. Thank God, Jesus is both merciful and just. May we have the same confidence and trust that Jesus did when we commend our spirits to the Father!

A blessed Good Friday and a joyous Easter to all! †

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