We have spent a long Lenten season pondering the seven statements Jesus made as he was dying on the cross. At our 7 p.m. Maundy Thursday Service on April 18, we will remember his Last Supper and reprise the Seven Last Words of Christ by Dubois. “It is finished!” Jesus cried out as he died. Will evil and death have the last word? What will God his heavenly Father do now? I invite you to come to worship next Sunday, Easter Sunday, to hear the good news. Christ is Risen! Alleluia.
On this coming Palm/Passion Sunday, April 14, we will begin our worship with a Palm processional accompanied by joyful bells remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey at the beginning of Holy Week. But then we will return to Jesus on the cross. During his three years of ministry Jesus taught us how to live. Here he shows us how to die well. His final two statements as he dies express resolve, faith and surrender: “It is finished.” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I invite you to stop and ponder these words.
The fifth statement that Jesus makes as he is dying on the cross is found in John 19:28; it is a poignant expression of human, physical need, “I am thirsty.” This statement underscores the full humanity of the One whom we confess as “fully human, fully God.” In Jesus Christ the physical and the spiritual were fully joined. Jesus wasn’t just God masquerading as a man. And so Jesus suffered physically and emotionally from hunger, thirst, rejection, and violence, just as we do. Like us, he was also created for relationship with God. And so I will also explore the symbolic meaning of thirst as it is used in Psalm 42:2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Are you thirsty? Jesus was.
The immense suffering Jesus experiences on the cross leads him to cry out to God with the piercing question “Why?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus prays, using familiar words from the beginning of Psalm 22. That psalm continues in the same mood of questioning lament, “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (v.2) before eventually turning to trust. What are we to make of Jesus praying this particular psalm as he suffers and dies? What does his cross reveal to us about life, about faith, and about God? Think on that!
On this third Sunday in Lent we will reflect on how Jesus redefined family during his life and ministry, and as he hung dying on the cross. From the cross, Jesus looked down and through his words and actions established a new family. “Woman, behold your son!” he tells his mother Mary, nodding to his disciple John. Then he says to John while looking at Mary, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27) The church is a family defined not by natural kinship but by Christ’s love poured out freely upon all. Ponder that!
This second Sunday in Lent we will reflect on the Second Word (statement) Jesus spoke from the cross, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Jesus spoke these surprising words of assurance to one of the criminals being crucified next to him. While we don’t know what “paradise” will be like, we do know that we will be with Christ. Even now, today we are with him, and where he is (even if it’s a cross), there paradise is. Now that is some amazing good news!
This year, during the season of Lent, our worship and my messages will explore the last words of Jesus as he hung, dying on the cross. Our music director, David Chavez, suggested this as a possible Lenten theme because he had choral music he wanted to do, The Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore Dubois. Since this was a sermon series that I hadn’t yet preached in my years of ministry, I gladly agreed. Cornerstone will also contribute some brief dramatic monologues.
These seven statements of Jesus on the cross are taken from all four of the gospels, and we will explore them in the traditional order. We begin this Sunday with THE FIRST WORD from Luke 23:34 – “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Wow! the first thing this man being executed says is a prayer asking God to forgive those putting him to death. We need to stop, and ponder that! We who are Jesus’ followers have had a hard time being as forgiving as Jesus, but as his disciples we must learn to forgive.
Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday (March 3 this year) marks the end of the season of Epiphany, and the transition to the season of Lent. As we have been exploring over the last two months, an epiphany is “a manifestation” or a “revelation” of a deeper meaning or a hidden truth, about one’s life, about God, or about the universe. The transfiguration story, recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels, is an EPIPHANY to three of Jesus’ disciples, and through them to us, of the hidden truth, or deeper meaning, of Jesus, — who and what he really is. The disciples see Jesus’ true glory and hear the voice of God telling them: “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!” May we too see his glory, and heed his teachings.
In this season after Epiphany we have been looking at the many places that God is revealed in our lives. This Sunday we will read from Matthew 25:31-46 what I find to be one of the most personally challenging of all of Jesus’ parables. Sometimes it is called “the parable of the Great Judgement” but most often just “the parable of the sheep and goats.” The scene is of a great King administering judgment based upon how people treated him, but there is a surprise twist. Neither the sheep nor the goats remember seeing him, much less giving or failing to give him a helping hand. “When did we see you, Lord?” is their plaintive cry and question. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these brothers and sisters, you did it to me!” is the king’s answer. This is the challenge for us: to see Christ in other people, especially those who are hurting and are in need. May God grant us eyes that see, hearts that feel, and hands that reach out.
This coming Sunday we look at God’s Epiphany through Scripture. The unseen God is revealed to us through the words of the Bible, but only when we read the Bible through the eyes of the Word made flesh, Jesus. So we need to ask ourselves some important questions: How did Jesus interpret the Scriptures of his people (what we now call “the Old Testament”)? What did he emphasize? What did he ignore or marginalize? I have come to believe that for the church to be truly Christian, we need to allow Jesus to teach us how to read the Bible correctly. Then the Bible can be a rich source of healing and grace rather than division.