In the days leading up to Good Friday, I will be meditating on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
Lent is a time of solemn contemplation of the Passion of Christ. We may choose to meditate, contemplate, or pray on His suffering for us. One way in which me might do this is through devotion to His Seven Last Words—the seven final phrases uttered by Christ as recounted in the Gospels. These Seven Last Words of the Passion of Christ are understood only in light of the true one Word of Life and Resurrection—the phrases uttered by Jesus before His death take on new life and new meaning following the glory of His resurrection. We sit with the pain and loss of crucifixion during Lent, but look forward to the brightness of new life on Easter.
The Seven Last Words
1. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) (link)
2. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
3. “Woman, Behold your Son. Behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34)
5. “ I thirst.” (John 19:29)
6. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
We all know the story. Two wrong-doers, crucified on either side of Jesus, suffering and dying with Him on the cross. One mocks Him, one calls out to Him.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23: 39-42)
And this is when Jesus makes the promise of eternity, a promise which doesn’t wait until His own death and resurrection—a promise made available that day. The promise of paradise. Of happiness.
How often do we, today, search for happiness. We look for our own paradise here on earth, in our material possessions, relationships, successes, achievements. We look to create our happiness, as if it is a destination at the end of a journey, something to be gained, something to be earned.
We forget that Jesus offers it to us today.
Even in the midst of Lent, even in the midst of the suffering of our Lord, His offer of happiness, of paradise, of the beginning of an eternity in His presence hangs in front of us. And He waits for us to accept that offer. He offers time and time again. All we need to do is answer with a joyful “Yes!” All we need is what German theologian Paul Tillich would name, “the courage to be”—the acknowledgment that what we are can only be understood as the a creation, an extension of God. And that the joy that comes from that knowledge, the joy that comes from the Lord is the “emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one’s own true being.”
So we can be joyful. But this joy is oftentimes accompanied by sorrow, by pain, by the acute awareness of the suffering of others. For to live courageously in the presence of Christ, to accept His offer of happiness, means to accept His cross as well. The pain and the suffering of His cross, like the crosses that so many continue to struggle beneath today, broaden our hearts, expand them to hearts of service, hearts of empathy, hearts of charity, hearts of love. And in those moments of charity, empathy, love, and service, we find the true presence of Christ, and the true joy of His salvation. We get a foretaste of paradise.
All we have to do is recognize our Savior, call out to Him, ask Him to remember us. We courageously embrace His cross, emptying ourselves for others, and in that way, create within ourselves room to grow in His love. And in that moment, we encounter our Lord, within us, paradise on earth.