Good Friday 2020 -The Seven Last Words of Christ

Revd Dr Andrew Warmback, St Pauls, Durban

  • ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34)

On the cross Jesus forgives those responsible for his crucifixion: the Roman soldiers, and the religious leaders who collaborated with them in bringing him to trial.  Jesus goes on to say they don’t know what they are doing; that in fact they are ignorant of their wrongdoing.

This is an act of grace by Jesus – a free, undeserved gift he gives them. Jesus forgives them and holds nothing against them; and, in the process, he also frees himself from any bitterness and resentment he may have towards them.

Jesus often forgives.  We hear it sometimes in the words of forgiveness that lead to his healing of people.  Some of his parables illustrate the nature of forgiveness and the need for us to forgive others. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we pray often. Jesus came to set us free. May we receive the forgiveness Jesus offers us all, today.

Let us reflect on our lives and our relationships with others and ask God to bring to mind areas that need forgiveness. Perhaps we need to forgive ourselves, the shame and guilt we carry.  Do we hold any grudges against anyone?  Let us forgive them too.  Let us ask God for the grace to forgive and to continue to forgive, especially where it is difficult to do so.  Jesus forgives others under the most extreme circumstances.

  1. ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23: 43)

Jesus overhears a conversation between the other men on their crosses next to him. The one man mocks Jesus, saying that, as the Messiah, should Jesus not be saving them.  The man on the other side of Jesus criticises him saying that they should be fearing God and that they themselves deserve their punishment, but that Jesus does not deserve his.  To this man Jesus says, “today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus recognizes the humility in this man for admitting his wrong.  Jesus often spent time with vulnerable people, people who were crushed by the various oppressive political, economic and religious systems of the day.  He listened and cared for those who were looked down upon, discriminated against; we are talking about those who knew, and admitted, their own brokenness and their need of God.  He affirmed them, and challenged them, and invited them to follow him.

Let us admit our own frailty, our weakness, and our inadequacy.  Let us be honest with ourselves.  Let us express these things to Jesus; and, then let us hear for ourselves the words “today, you will be with me in paradise.”

  1. ‘Women, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.’ (John 19:26)

Among the women standing near the cross was Jesus’ mother. When Jesus saw her he said to the disciple whom he loved who was standing beside her, “woman, here is your son,” and to this disciple he said, “son, here is your mother.”  This disciple took this seriously and later took Mary to his home.

Jesus grew up in a family.  He learnt Joseph’s trade of carpentry; he had a close relationship with his mother.  We read too of his siblings. Jesus extended the meaning of family. Mothers, and brothers and sisters were those who followed him, and who became part of his larger family.

Let us thank God for our own families, for the support they give us and for the responsibilities we can exercise towards them.  Let us too be grateful to the family of faith, our church community. Let us take time to reflect on all the relationships which we have with others, expressing gratitude to God for them. Let us also reflect on the role we play within the church and also within the wider household of God. Is God perhaps calling us to offer ourselves in a new way to serve others?

  1. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34)

Jesus had a close relationship with God, his father.  Throughout his ministry Jesus kept saying that it was not his own will but his father’s will that he was carrying out. So it is a dramatic and most painful moment when Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” It is something Jesus had not experienced before.  He had encountered other people’s pain and now he experiences his own in this grave moment of abandonment.

We too experience times when we cry out in anguish: perhaps in times of failure, the death of someone close to us, our failing health, the bleak outlook our future may hold.  We too may ask why these things are happening to us; and at times we have more questions than answers. With situations we cannot understand or explain our only response is to express our pain, our frustration, our disappointment, even our anger, to God.

Let us recall our failures and losses, which we are often very aware of; our careless mistakes, the missed opportunities, our sense of hopelessness, of feeling useless.

In quietness let us offer these to God in prayer, for God is with us.

  1. ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:30)

After the beatings, the mocking and jeering voices Jesus hears on his agonising journey of carrying the cross to Golgotha, it is not surprising that he is thirsty. He has experienced almost unbearable suffering.

Jesus, who offers life-giving water to the woman at the well, is now thirsty. Jesus, the one who is always meeting the needs of others, offering words of encouragement, of comfort and healing, now expresses his own need.

Are we thirsty, or hungry?  In what ways are we suffering?  What are our needs that need to be met? Are we suffering abuse or violence of some sort? Losing income, now?  Facing unemployment under the extended lockdown? Working through a difficult relationship?  Perhaps even struggling to make sense of our faith in a world that can be frightening to us? And, what needs of others are we aware of?

Let us take time to express to God our needs, and the needs of others, for God hears us.

  1. ‘It is finished.’ (John 19:20)

As his life draws to an end Jesus says “it is finished, it is completed.” He knew that he had fulfilled his mission, done what he been sent to do. Knowing this, his suffering and impending death had new meaning; it was not in vain, it was in fact part of the work he needed to do.

Jesus had given himself fully to his calling.  We could say that he gave it his all, he did not hold anything back.  Jesus literally gave his life away, in loving, caring, feeding those who were hungry, binding up the broken-hearted, teaching the values, principles and habits that make for abundant living, and on top of it all he trained others to continue this ministry. Truly a life well lived.

Jesus invites us to give ourselves fully to God, to live with meaning and purpose, passion and commitment, that we too may be able to say at the end, “it is finished.” While we will experience the struggles and the heartaches, may we live life in a way that uses all that God have given us – our faith, our capacity to show compassion, our gifts and skills, our training and experience – in fulfilling God’s purpose for us, which is to live out the good news of God’s love and joy, and, in the process, reimagine and remake the world.

Let us reflect on our goals, our dreams and ambitions.  How are we using our time? Where are we headed?  What may we need to change so that we can say, in amidst the obstacles and setbacks we face, that we too are doing now what we believe God has called us to do?

  1. ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ (Luke 23: 46)

Just before he died Jesus commits himself to God, his father. Jesus fully trusted God.  God was his source of strength and guidance; he trusted in God’s love and provision for him. And at the end of his life, Jesus was able to offer his life back to God.

Jesus encouraged others to rely on God, to trust in God’s goodness. As I like to say, our lives are in God’s hands.

Let us offer all that we are to God, knowing that God wants what is best for us.   Let be grateful that our lives belong to God.  Let us commend ourselves daily to God.

As we conclude, let us pray:

Loving God, your son Jesus Christ

gave his life for us:

mysteriously, through his suffering we find freedom

and in his death we find life.

For this we are most grateful, this Good Friday.