The Seven Last Words from the Cross — from South Africa

The Seven Last Words from the Cross

Isobel de Gruchy

I

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

They took Jesus to Golgotha and there they crucified him, the Jews derided,
the Romans, with callous unconcern, did their job,
and he called out,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Any other person, you or I, could not say this;
could not look out from under the smothering tarpaulin of sheer pain enveloping us –
could only think of hate and revenge –
could only be consumed by our own suffering –
would shrink our world to include only ourselves.

But he saw Pilate caught in the machinations of the Jewish leaders
intent on saving his own position;
the soldiers, limited by lack of insight, controlling a rebellious people
in a foreign land, made inhuman by violence.

He saw too the Jews, his followers, bewildered and
panic-stricken, helpless to intervene;
Judas, wretched and remorseful;
the mob, thirsting for blood, another spectacle,
another criminal made to pay.

Above all, he saw the religious leaders,
their power over the people.
He saw their hatred of him,
he who had thrown a pebble into the smooth water of their control
sending newness and discontent with old ways
rippling out in ever widening circles.
Even over them, he prayed forgiveness.

2

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Who may come into your kingdom, Lord?
Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord.”
but the one who does the will of the Father,
the one whose life reflects his love and justice.
And when must we come, Lord?
Early in the day, when there is a whole day
ahead to work in the fields?

We know the rules, Lord, but you don’t
always abide by them.
The worker who came at dusk
earned a full day’s pay and
The son who squandered all the money
was welcomed back with open arms.
Then there was the bandit on the cross.
He asked for mercy as the doors of death
were closing on him.
“Today you will be in Paradise with me”,
you promised.
Mercy given in your agony:
Mercy given undeservedly, early or late:
Mercy given to all who ask –
No rules, only grace.

3

“I thirst.”

 

Relentless sun’s burning touch,
hot wind’s drying breath,
white dust rising, choking,
blood, brown and dried, caking your eyes,
matting your hair from the cruel thorns,
all is hot, dry, desiccated.

“I am thirsty, so thirsty,
so very thirsty,” your cracked voice gasps,
longing for water,
yearning for its freshness,
needing it as we all need it –
as each human being needs it.
But for you there is also another thirst,
deeper, more persistent, more urgent,
“I am thirsty with a love-longing to possess you
altogether wholly within myself.”
As I need the cup of water to refresh me,
to assuage my physical thirst,
only you becoming part of me
will satisfy this spiritual thirst.
I thirst, I thirst for your love.
Inspired by Julian of Norwich

 

4

”Woman, here is your son.” 

“Here is your mother.”

 

Mary of humility,
Mary of obedience,
Mary of sorrows,
was this son ever really yours?
Your flesh and blood, yes,
but really yours?
He always followed his own path,
directed by his other Father,
the one who led him to this point.
But you were always his,
his mother, his nurturer,
his haven while he tested out
the frightening urgings
to follow that other way.

And now you have lost him again.
Lost him who was never yours.
But listen Mary, to his love talking.
“Mother, here is your son” and you
become mother to his beloved friend.
“Here is your mother” and you are
no longer alone for he will care for you.

Mary of humility,
Mary of obedience,
Mary of sorrows,
you are now the mother of all his beloved,
a new all-embracing family.

5</p

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

based on Psalm 22

Blinded by pain,
gasping for breath,
thoughts ascatter from agony,
you are alone – abandoned
and left in a darkness
that reaches its fingers deep into your
being, breaking the cords that bind
you and your Father – where is he now?

Words come back to you, learnt in childhood,
bursting out in a desolate cry.
“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Words misunderstood by
the company of evil-doers that encircle you,
striking new depths of grief into Mary’s heart,
she who would keep you safe on her breast
as she once did.
But you are being poured out like water,;
and your bones are out of joint;
your mouth is dried up like a potsherd
and your clothes are being divided up
among your executioners.

Was this the moment when you turned
from your Father to hoist the world’s sin
onto your back?
To shoulder our guilt and shame?
Was it a moment in our time,
but an eternity of forsakenness in yours?
all borne for us who do not in any way deserve your grace;
and being human like us, you could not understand
why he was not there.
“Why?” you cried out, like us.

And though we still receive no answer
to our “Why”, we are strengthened
in our pain when we recall
you felt the same.

6</p

“It is finished”

 

“It is finished”

A cry of triumph or a groan of relief?
A task well done or an end to life?
You walked a hard road, a rocky road,
with crowds pressing in on you at one time,
and deserting you another.
In one place miracles and healings,
in another nothing, because of their unbelief.
In the end what did you leave?
A small group of men and women,
powerless and frightened, a few
watching him die – overcome with grief,
the rest hiding and one
full of remorse, taking his own life.
It is finished. The vision of a changed
world lying in tatters all around you
A world of justice and love now finished,
Like the darkness now closing in,
as the power of evil triumphs?

The curtain of the temple tears apart
from top to bottom – the earth shakes.
It has been accomplished! It is finished!
A life lived revealing God in a new way,
fulfilling all that was asked of you:
In your death conquering death itself.
It has been accomplished! It is finished!
Indeed a shout of triumph
echoing down the centuries
and still ringing in our ears.

7

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

I do not know what it is to bear such pain
and humiliation, though others do.
I do not know what it is to suffer such
solitariness, though others do.
I do not know what it is to feel that God
has utterly forsaken me, though others do.
I do not know what it is to bear the weight
of the world’s sin, being innocent,
and this you alone know.

Hour after hour, your pain intensifying,
your life-blood draining away,
you hang on the cross for us all, even me;
cut off from your friends, and even from your Father,
who is himself – thus sundered within.

But now, at the moment when death
claims its own and the powers
of darkness seem to have won,
you find the strength to cry out with a clear voice,
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Only then do you die – pain, suffering forsakenness,
all at an end – overcome in the assurance that
the Father’s hands are outstretched to hold you.

Father, if I come to know any of this – pain,
suffering, being alone, facing death, maybe
small in reality, but huge and overwhelming to me,
let this image of Christ on the cross,
and the memory of these words return
to assure me of the Father’s hands
outstretched also to hold me.

 

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