Christ's invitation from the Cross: The seven last words
Holy Week intensifies our Lenten spiritual exercises, focusing us particularly on Christ's Passion. From the Cross, he invites us to share in his sacrifice, so that we may in turn share in his glory. The seven last words of Christ from the Cross provide us a particularly direct invitation and can guide our meditation during these holy days.
1. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
These words could express the entirety of Jesus's saving action. We all have crucified him through our sins, and yet he prays for us and offers his life for our forgiveness. His life itself is salvation, a rescue mission of love in which he allows himself to be rejected by his own people in order to draw them out of slavery. Having experienced his mercy, he calls his disciples to show it to others. Loving and praying for one's enemies proves our love and manifests God's love to others, passing on the forgiveness we have received.
2. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Jesus is not just offering forgiveness through his work of redemption; he is drawing us into a new creation, "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Through the gift of his life, he has created a new garden, an eternal paradise, watered from the blood flowing forth from his side. It is an everlasting "today" in God's own eternal life. We are all in the place of the thief, and Jesus speaks to us personally from the Cross, calling us into this everlasting today with him.
3. "Woman, behold, your son! ... Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26-27).
Jesus gives us everything, He offers us his own flesh and blood to eat. He sends us his own divine Spirit to dwell in us as a Temple, leading us to the Father in prayer. He also gives us his Mother as our own mother, as we are members of the Body to which she has given birth, asking us to take her into our home like John, the beloved disciple. In this act of love, he makes known to us that he holds nothing back, and his surrender of all is also a gift and invitation to us.
4. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
Jesus is abandoned by the Father in that he has followed the Father's will in being handed over to sinners. He is abandoned to death, even as he voluntarily takes on all the sin and suffering of fallen humanity, bearing this weight and offering himself as a sacrificial victim, a paschal lamb that we might be spared from eternal death. In this moment, he has never been closer to the Father. He likewise calls his disciples to take up their own crosses and to die to themselves, joining their own suffering to his abandonment on the Cross.
5. "I thirst" (John 19:28).
In his abandonment, Jesus reveals his thirst. He told his disciples at the Last Supper that he would "not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Mt 26:29). He thirsts for this drink with us, this new cup of salvation that flows forth from his own side. He thirsts for us to join him in receiving his gift, to desire this gift more than anything else. This may be his strongest invitation from the Cross, calling us into the new wine he offers us in his hour that will transform us (see John 2).
6. "It is finished" (John 19:30).
In Latin, this phrase is "consummatum est," which is rich in meaning. It refers to the debt being paid in full, the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, the completion of the sacrifice, the complete gift of self to the bride. In return, Jesus asks for the complete acceptance of this gift. He wants our whole life in return, not simply a portion of our thoughts, our affections, our time, and work. He invites us to say in return, I have given you all, the whole of my life, so we can say back to him at the end of our lives, "it is consummated."
7. "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:46).
Jesus has given everything to the Father, including all of us. He will bring us to him, reconciling us to him and giving us adoption as sons in him, the Son. Everything Jesus said and did, he said was given to him by the Father. In this final word at the moment of his death, he shows us once again: everything is from and for the Father. This is the goal of his mission and his ultimate invitation for us: come to the Father with me, share in the Father's life with me, rejoice in the Father's love forever.