Last words matter
As a physician, my husband was sometimes present during that sacred moment when a patient passed from life to death. Often there were no “last words,” because the patient was already unconscious, but when a patient spoke at this time, everyone in the room strained to hear, because “last words” can be important, even sacred:
– a blessing
– a curse
– a request
– a confession
– words of forgiveness
What were Jesus’s last words?
During this Holy Week, following along with Jean Wise’s book 40 Voices: A Lenten Devotional, I have paid close attention to the words Jesus spoke during the last few days of his life. He knew what was going to happen and he knew he had very little time left on earth. Surely he chose every word carefully and with great love and tenderness for his followers—and for us. In my scripture reading yesterday, I was struck with Jesus’s pronouncement to his disciples at the Last Supper:
I give you a new commandment: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
In these few words, Jesus left us a powerful message that we desperately need in today’s world too:
• Love is not just a soft and fuzzy sentiment. It is the foundation of life.
• Love is not just an emotion; it is a verb; it denotes action.
• To learn what love for each other should look like, we should look at how Jesus loved his disciples and followers.
What did Jesus say when he died?
Today, Friday of Holy Week—also known as Good Friday—is the day Christians remember the death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Mark’s gospel (Mark 15:33-34) we read:
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 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?
Jesus knew despair, so we should not be surprised when we have times of despair in our lives. When we feel despair, it is not the end. Easter is yet to come.
Three verses later, we read :
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:37)
John’s gospel tells us exactly what the last words of that loud cry were:
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
It is finished. These were the last earthly words of Christ.
My new Good Friday practice
My friend Marty Hoerr introduced me to a beautiful practice for this day: to go outside at three o’clock in the afternoon, look up into the sky, and contemplate Christ’s despair, suffering, and death. I did that today and found my meditation to be profoundly moving. The sky was stormy, but in a few minutes, some rays of sun shone through. I felt a deep connection with my friend and other believers around the world.
A few years ago, I could not have done this. It would have seemed too hard, too dark. But author Emily P. Freeman has given me a new image for this contemplation at three o’clock in the afternoon on Good Friday: the image of a terribly heavy burden containing all my mistakes, regrets, losses, and sins being lifted from me—out of me—by Jesus and hidden inside his broken body, tucked next to his heart, to die forever with him—gone…erased…forgiven.
It is finished.
He said it, but do we believe it?
Do we believe we are forgiven? Do we believe our mistakes can be redeemed through the grace of Jesus Christ? If I’m completely honest with myself and with you, I don’t always believe it. At least I don’t act as if I believe it. I don’t always feel free or forgiven.
But what is the point in feeling the weight of that burden if it has already been lifted from me? The price has been paid. All I have to do—all any one of us has to do—is accept the gift with humble gratitude.
It is finished.
Get ready for the glorious celebration on Easter Sunday.