Lent is a time that the Universal Church reflects on Christ’s Passion and Death in an intensely focused way. After Jesus was nailed to the cross, He spoke 7 short expressions. These statements are now commonly referred to as the “The Seven Last Words.” These words are recounted in Sacred Scripture and are found throughout the four Gospels.
Few Christians can recall all seven of Our Lord’s last words on the Cross. As you contemplate His Passion and Death this season, remember that these words, although spoken nearly 2,000 years ago at Calvary, were meant for every generation.
Nothing our Lord said or did was without meaning. Prepare your hearts this Lenten season by reflecting on the Seven Last Words of Christ and consider incorporating this reflection into your Lenten practices.
“To many, the Passion of Jesus Christ is a lesson in history where we sympathize with Christ for the sufferings he went through before he died. We find it hard to believe how the people can be so cruel as to inflict the most severe form of pain on a man who we know was innocent. For Christians the Passion should be more than a lesson in history. It should become a lesson in life, teaching us how to stand up for truth and justice.” – Pope Francis
“Father, forgive them , for they know not what they do.” Luke 23: 34
The first words that Jesus spoke after being nailed to the cross were ones of forgiveness. The timing of this suggests that Jesus was referring to those enemies – the soldiers, those who mocked, scourged, tortured, and nailed him to the cross. Even though his enemies did not recognize Him as the Messiah, Christ displays his limitless compassion.
“Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 43
Christ says these words to a man who is being crucified next to him. Just like the first word, His second is that of forgiveness. God generously opens the door to heaven for those who will to repent of their sins. The sinner recognized Christ for who he was. The mercy of God is always ready to reach out to and save a soul, even at the last minute.
“When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he said to the disciple: Behold thy mother.” John 19: 26-27
Yet again Jesus is continuously compassionate to those around him, making sure that his Mother is cared for after his death. Most scholars speculate that Mary was a widower at the time of the crucifixion. The good son Jesus, without brothers and sisters to provide for his Mother, looks to John to care for her. Just as Christ gave His mother to John, he gives Mother Mary to us.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matt 27:46
These four words were uttered shortly before His death. This is the only passage where the original Aramaic language is preserved. Here, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment by praying the opening verse of Psalm 22. God placed the sins of the entire world on Him, which fall heavy on the humanity of Jesus. His other eleven disciples, once at His side, are nowhere to be found. However, Jesus’ reciting of Psalm 22 also brings the reader to remember the ending of that same Psalm: “Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the assembly I will praise you…For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch…All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD” (Psalm 22: 23, 25, 28). Even though Jesus experienced the fullness of human emotion, he also knew the Scriptures, and God the Father’s plan for salvation. Thus Jesus chooses to pray a Psalm that begins with discouragement and ends with joyful hope and faith.
“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.” John 19:28
Earlier in the Gospel, a drink of wine and myrrh was prepared for Jesus. It was customary in those days to give an anesthetic drink for those about to be crucified. To appease the soldiers Jesus took a sip, but not enough to deaden the pain. In this passage He prompted the guards for his final drink, this one consisting of vinegar and water. Among His seven last words, this is the only verbal expression of his physical suffering, even though he was scourged, crowned with thorns, walked the Way of the Cross, and was nailed to the Cross. However, Jesus’ thirst on the cross was more than a physical thirst; it was a thirst for souls for whom love compelled him to redeem.
“Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated.” John 19:30
Amazingly, Jesus is still conscious after hours of being on the cross. This expression, “It is finished”, did not simply mean that death was upon him, but rather that He fulfilled his mission, and, because he was God, willingly laid down his own life. His preaching, miracles, and finally His earthly suffering would soon be over. His ministry and resulting death would pay the debt of sin for all humanity.
“And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up the ghost.” Luke 23:46
These are the very last words Jesus spoke on the Cross before His final breath. Jesus is willingly giving up His soul to His Father in Heaven. Jesus has been perfectly obedient to His father’s will. It is here that the Lamb of God has been slain for our sins. By contemplating this, and all the last words of Jesus, we can better appreciate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Meditate on Our Lord’s words and include it as part of your Lenten preparation, especially during Holy Week. What other significance and meaning can you draw from His last words? Please share with our readers in the comments below.
This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2014. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.