Throughout Lent we offer our readers a reflection on the Seven Last Holy Words of Christ. We pray your Lent may deepen your encounter with the Lord.
When Jesus Christ was in His last hours on the Cross, Holy Scripture records His seven last words. “Words” is a misnomer. He actually spoke seven phrases, some of which invoked Psalms or thoughts beyond the words He spoke.
It’s extraordinary actually that Jesus said anything at all. Crucifixion is asphyxiation. As you hang on a cross, the position requires you to constantly pull yourself upwards. Your chest and diaphragm are required to open up each time you breath. Jesus’s whole body was in agony. But just to catch his breath, He had to push His feet up (where a nail pierced His ankles), extend His torso upwards (where splinters pulled away at His raw skin), and flex up His shoulders (one of which was likely separated), while His hands, pierced too, pulled against His effort. In short, each breath was agony.
Really, given this painful reality, who would want to speak? Each moment is probably worse than before. Think of when you are out of breath after intense activity, even for a short period of time. Jesus had been going for over twelve hours, with little rest, full of beatings, coupled with extreme physical exertion (He carried a cross that weighed over 150 pounds), and little-to-no hydration.
Yet, He spoke. So, just for this physical cost alone, we listen. Ironically, we refer to these seven “words” as the “last words” of Christ. Again, we know the ending of the story. And for those of us with the gift of faith, we know that less than 72 hours after these “last words” Christ will rise from the dead. And He will continue to speak. Still, these words are the closing notes to the symphony that is the reality that God walked among us, freely laid down His life, and suffered the pangs of death:
“Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do”
“Today, you will be with me in paradise”
“Behold your son; behold your mother.”
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
“It is Finished”
“Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”
These words seem worth committing to memory. Or at least, thinking about them over again. Because of the intensity of the suffering Christ endured, it seems difficult to fully empathize let alone imagine what his sufferings were like. But Jesus left us His words. Sometimes, in the most difficult moments in life, all we remember are impressions and fleeting words. They echo and remain in our memory even as the event has long passed. If that is the case, then it is worth spending time this Lent pondering the meaning of these words from the Word made Flesh. Perhaps in them we can understand the love He has for us. And allow that love, through grace, to more fully dwell in our hearts.