Preaching from the last words of our Lord, God and Savior on Good Friday is quite common in western churches. In the medieval period preachers emphasized the darkness and desolation. Later they stressed the overwhelming love poured out from Christ’s glorious sacrifice. In any case the emotions of all Christians are brought to a climax by the Son of God’s sublime act of mercy and forgiveness.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34] How could our Lord Jesus utter those words from His Cross at that moment? He taught us to turn the other cheek, but His forgiveness transcends that deed. This is beyond human nature. Only a God can do that. He was enduring suffering and agony, but they showed Him no pity. He instead pleads to His Father not to hold it against them. Indeed, they had no concept of the horror they were bringing on themselves, and yet Jesus was praying for them as He had for Judas. If He could do that, what of us?
“Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43] From facing forward, He looks to His right and wins the soul of a common criminal. Not both. One must want what He offers, but despite the past with its sins, conversion is possible from One who is more eager to grant it than the one who receives it with appreciation.
“Woman, behold your son…..Behold your mother!” [John 19:26-27] Then, looking down on the few who had the courage and compassion to share His grief and anguish, He provides for the welfare of His suffering mother. A little trinity of love binds her with Him and the disciple whom He loved. They would not be alone, and they would come to know that He would be closer to them than when He lived in the same home and ate at the same table. This adoption no state charter could match. From that time on the apostle John took the Mother of God into his own home.
“Eli [Eloi] Lama sabachthani. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46] This time He looks upward and reaches inward where the Father and Holy Spirit are as alive there as they had been eternally in the Kingdom. Why this seemingly confusing prayer? Because it is the start of the Psalm 22 that opens onto the identification with all Adam and Eve’s children who have known the feeling of forsakenness. From that moment, none could ever say and mean, “You cannot know, Lord, what I feel.” He did and He does. The ultimate abandonment. And the psalm includes a note of faith, joy and triumph: “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry of help” [v.24].
“I thirst” [John 19-28] Finally He acknowledges His own excruciating suffering. Who of us can imagine the sensation of one crucified who had shed an enormous amount of blood from the beatings and abuse, adding the great perspiration from the baking sun. Many metaphors are lifted: “Thirst for righteousness,” “Living water,” “they gave me gall to drink…” but the reality is one of intense thirst, as real and horrible as that.
“It is finished” [Tetelesthai] (completed, consummated, accomplished, achieved) [John 19:30] The goal of the Holy Trinity for the salvation of humankind is fulfilled. Now for the glorious ascension and the return to the right hand of the Father, as we celebrate the Ascension feast.
“Father, unto Your hands I commend My spirit” [Luke 23:46] Who would dare attempt to explain the awesome mystery of salvation? What can we mortals add that would dare to interrupt the sublime time for meditation? We can only allude to the awesome entrance with the precious Gifts of the Pre-sanctified Liturgy, since we have no human words to describe this poignant mystery of the Son of God’s return to where He had been before the awesome kenosis, choosing to enter time and space, to live as a human from birth to death on the cross. “Let all mortal flesh be silent, for the King of Glory now enters, the mystical sacrifice all accomplished.”