GOOD FRIDAY REFLECTIONS
Grace Presbyterian Church, April 2020
Compiled by Rev. Katie Murchison Ross
The Seven Last Words of Jesus
Take some time to reflect on each of these sayings. You may choose to set aside a block of time to read all of them. Or you may take 5-10 minutes here and there throughout the day. Or you may find yourself drawn to particular sayings of Christ and focus your prayer and reflection on those.
For each of Jesus’ “last words,” spoken on the cross, we’ve included a Scripture reading and a brief reflection. For some, we’ve included an additional song, poem, or article to connect the Scripture to current events. You may choose to focus on the Scripture, or to reflect on the article, or simply to meditate on the words of Jesus without digging into the extra resources.
Scripture: Luke 12:32-34
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 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.
Reflection: Jesus asks God to forgive even those who hurt him deeply. That in itself is astonishing. But what’s interesting to me this year is his reasoning: “for they do not know what they are doing.” That’s a statement with a lot of grace in it. They may not know exactly who they’re crucifying, but they know that they’re partaking in a violent act, murdering a peaceful healer and teacher. And yet Jesus extends grace because “they do not know what they’re doing.”
These days, there are many reasons to think we’re doing things wrong: going out too much, not supporting local business enough, giving our kids too much screen time, or not enough structure, not able to do our work fully, not sure how to give and serve with the structures in place. We haven’t been in this situation before. We don’t know what we’re doing, either. But if Jesus gave grace to the soldiers who crucified him, we can be certain that grace absolutely abounds for us.
Scripture: Luke 23:39-43
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.”
Reflection: To the criminal who asks him for mercy, Jesus offers salvation in a heartbeat. This guy was receiving the death penalty, so probably his crime was not a nonviolent misdemeanor. Many of us would have to think twice about whether a criminal was deserving of such a quick admittance to Paradise. But Jesus has always extended mercy to rascals, sinners, marginalized, at-risk people. Even in his own place of fear and pain—in his final hours of drawing breath—he kept looking outwards, showing love and mercy.
Today, during COVID-19, people who are incarcerated are at great risk. Social distancing is impossible in prison. Some are calling for early release of prisoners who have nearly served their terms, and immigrants in detention centers, as an act of mercy and to help provide a little relief, a little more space, a little more hope that the prison population will not be decimated. It seems to me that Jesus would offer that mercy freely.
Further reading: “The Body of Christ Continues to Gather in Prisons,” by Sarah Jobe in Sojourners:
“The very conditions of forced confinement that enable incarcerated people to continue to gather for worship are the same conditions that will quicken their infection and death. The real reason that the church behind bars can continue to gather during the COVID-19 outbreak is that their bodies have already been risked. But this is nothing new. Jesus has always inhabited a risk-able body.”
Scripture: John 19:25-27
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.
Reflection: This passage reminds me that, as much as Jesus’ death is a monumental event in the history of the world, extending forgiveness and grace to the whole world through this ultimate gift of God…as much as it is a theological mystery, it is also a real, human death with all that comes alongside that. Grief—for Jesus, the grief of leaving his mother and his close friends bereft. For them, the grief of losing their beloved. This seems like a scene that could happen in a hospital in April 2020: a dying man surrounded (virtually?) by those closest to him, asking them to care for one another.
Further reading: “Mary Speaks,” poem by Madeleine L’Engle.
“O you who bear the pain of the whole earth, I bore you.”
Scripture: Psalm 22:1-5, 29-31: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 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.
Matthew 27:45-46: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Reflection: Sometimes we may feel forsaken by God, and even Jesus expressed out loud this deeply human sentiment. Did he enter so fully into this human life that he actually felt that pain of abandonment by God? I have often wondered.
But the question was not the end of the story. The question is a quote from Psalm 22, which moves through the opening despair and groaning to the words of hopeful redemption: Future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.
Further listening: As a reminder that we are never truly forsaken, listen to the song, “Nothing to Fear” by Porter’s Gate (ft. Audrey Assad).
Scripture: John 19:28-29
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 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.
Reflection: Jesus was thirsty. Such a small detail reminds us of yet another way Jesus suffered on the cross. Abandonment, betrayal, pain…and also the simple but excruciating need of water. And why does this matter to us? As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “Only a suffering God can help.” Writing from prison (for standing up to the Nazi party), Bonhoeffer aptly noted that when things go wrong in the world, it is human tendency to look to the power of God to right things. We think that’s where we’ll find comfort. But the true hope lies not in God’s authority and power but in God’s willingness to suffer with us, even in the simplest ways, like thirst. Only a suffering God can help—can relate to our burdens and help us bear them, can be with us in the midst of insanity, can flip death on its head by dying.
Further reading: “A Crucified God” by Debie Thomas in Journey with Jesus:
“But these aren’t ordinary times… What is there to say in perilous times like these? What does our faith offer us? …I think it offers us a core truth, a healing truth, a paradoxical and shocking truth: only a suffering God can help. And a suffering God — a crucified, broken, desolate God — is what we have.”
Scripture: John 19:30
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Reflection: “It is finished.” The work is complete. The scriptures are fulfilled. The mission is accomplished. In other words, the cross is not a mistake that’s overcome by resurrection. The cross is the paradoxical victory of God over death. And it’s not something that happens by chance. Jesus willingly goes to the cross to bring salvation to us all.
Even though our work goes on, even though God continues to call people to follow and love and serve, even though we hold great responsibility to love God and one another with all our hearts—in some sense, it is already complete. Christ’s saving work on the cross reveals once and for all the depth of God’s love. And that means it’s not on us! Even as we try to be faithful, we don’t have to be saviors. Even as we try to do our work well, we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves in the process. Even as we seek to do our part to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 and serve our neighbors, it’s not ultimately on our plate. It is finished. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
Scripture: Luke 23:44-46
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
Reflection: With Christ’s final breath, he placed himself in God’s hands. Even when he was ready to face the uncertainty of death. (I can say for sure that’s something God had never experienced before!)
Perhaps Jesus’ very last words are good ones for us to cling to in these times. We don’t know what’s ahead. But we can learn to say to God, now and always, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”