Lent is a time to once again renew our spiritual and moral experience of Gods love offered in the great revelation of Jesus Christ at Calvary. There is a great tradition in our Church to meditate on the Lords seven last words as a Lenten meditation. To reflect on these words is to grow ever closer to the poverty and passion of Jesus. These last words serve as a testament to how Christ, the innocent and sinless Lamb of God, reveals the saving love of God. As we draw closer to the cross, may the awesome call of Gods love lift us beyond the prejudices and failings of our own hearts.
"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:34). This king of kings, suspended in pain and sorrow, sincerely begs his Father for mercy on behalf of his persecutors. He seeks the way of love and reconciliation. Our individual and corporate sin drove the nails into this innocent one. In Christ, God becomes at once the innocent victim and the source of reconciliation and mercy for the sinner. How far this is from our worldly spirit of revenge and retribution for wrongdoing. Here, the High Priest is the victim. In other words, his service to others is as the victim crucified.
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Where there is faith, there is light and life. Even in our darkest days, faith brings hope and strength. Jesus acknowledged that the darkness of Calvary was pierced by the faith of the repentant sinner. The criminal crucified that day with the Lord discovers faith and humility before the crucified Lord. As the criminal seeks the Lords mercy, his faith bears witness to the transcendence of Christs kingdom. The Lords response is a proclamation of salvation for the repentant. In this perilous hour, a sinner finds his Savior and, as a sinner reconciled, becomes the source for our hope.
"Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother" (Jn 19:27). His mother is before him with a heart pierced by the events of Calvary. "How can this innocent one of God be so treated?" Here, in the turmoil and confusion of the Cross, the Lord institutes his beloved disciple, his friend John, as sharing a special role with the Blessed Mother. Here, two gather for the first time before the Lord and form the first religious community of the Church. Before the Cross, Christians stand together in response to his vocational call.
"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" That is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt. 27:46). We must resist any temptation to make a distinction among Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenters son, and the rabbi who preached to the crowds and worked miracles, and this innocent victim as the Lamb of God. Our Savior is the crucified. Yet, our hearts are plagued by the question of how the Beloved Son can feel forsaken by his Father. For Christ, the Cross entailed a poverty that sank to the depths of feeling void of the Fathers infinite love and care for him. The Son emptied himself and experienced being nothing. For many, the Cross is a tragic and incomprehensible event. For the Christian, the Cross is the irreplaceable intersection of Gods almighty love with humanity.
The Cross is this tragic, that the miracle worker, the one who brought life where there was only death and light to the blind, is now put to death by sin. No one attempts to harbor him; no one of importance stands opposed to this mockery of truth and goodness. The self-emptying of the Cross is revealed to be of a depth that we rarely can appreciate. This divine love enters the world to transform us from our preoccupation with our own wants and desires to the liberty born of faith in Christ.
"I am thirsty" (Jn 19:28). How are we to comprehend these awful events? As Jesus Christ, the lord of life, offers himself for all humanity, his thirst is beyond that of his parched lips. This is the thirst of the Sacred Heart that can only be satiated through the Holy Spirit. His thirst is the thirst of all the poor, the sick, the misunderstood, the convicted, the forgotten, the hated and the multitudes that suffer as a result of sin. This is the thirst of the heart that will only be quenched by our Christian response in virtue to the needs of the others. In a very real way, we respond to Christs invitation to discipleship through our charity to others.
"It is finished" (Jn 19:30). As Christ made his way with the Cross, he fixed his heart on the Fathers will. Through all the temptation of the Garden, the mockery of a trial, the crushing and jeering of the crowded Jerusalem streets, Jesus remained committed to the Fathers will to the end. Jesus is proven to be the New Adam and model of authentic human fulfillment through a vocation: He added nothing to and subtracted nothing from the Fathers will. To the end, the Sons only desire was that of his Fathers will.
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46). How intimate and complete the divine love is between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayer as he dies recalls Psalm 31:5 and reveals a profound faith in his gracious Father. Here, the Son cleaves to his Father with the conviction that darkness, despair, death and sin will not prevail over his Fathers love. Nothing is more powerful than the love God has for Christ or for us as his beloved.
In the days of Lent, Christian hearts are to hear the Lords call through his own Passion and death. His last words can become for us the deepest of Lenten prayers. His powerful witness to the Fathers merciful love is memorialized at the celebration of every Mass: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."
Father Hinkley is a parish priest with a doctorate in moral theology and advanced degrees in marriage and family development and spiritual theology.