The Last Words of Jesus: AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
By Dr. William C. Turner, Jr.
Associate Professor of the Practice of Homiletics
Duke Divinity School
The Sayings known as the "Seven Last Words" are recorded by the evangelists as words spoken from the cross in his passion. During the earthly ministry Jesus was moved with compassion toward the world. This is a world the Father has not abandoned. This is a world that God loves. The Son is not unmoved; rather, he is sent in the Spirit that creation might be restored to communion with God.
There is no scene that more clearly this passion, and there is no word that articulates it with more force than the "Cry of Dereliction," namely, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me." [Mark 15:34]
This scene is grasped in bold and glaring proportions by a member of Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church, where I serve as pastor. She has depicted Jesus in that moment in a powerful portrait. The space on the canvas is accented by pushing the two brigands who hanged with him into the rear. Pushed forward is the figure of the Son. The face is scarred and disfigured by thorns, and it is not brought forth with the sort of clarity we expect from a camera shot. It is almost hidden in darkness. Drops of blood are shown coming from the face. At the foot of the cross one can see blood flowing from the nail scarred hands and feet and the pierced side.
Near the foot of the cross one sees the lamb with marks of slaughter upon it. Fissures are in the earth all around, and three women are kneeling in horror. No men are to be found. The clouds are shot through with streaks of lightning. At the same time they break with fragments from the gospel.
The fragment that gripped me with fresh force was from the charge made against him--that he is the "friend of taxcollectors and sinners." Was it for crimes that I had done that he groaned upon the tree? Did he die because he made himself my friend?
Surely this was a charge made against Jesus by his enemies. He was charged further with being a winebibber and a glutton. He was charged with blasphemy for saying he was the Son of God. In the words of the apostle, "he became a curse on the tree." He bore the reproach of creation, and in particular, the seed of Adam.
Forsakenness on the cross was the deepest dimension of death. Cut off from eternal communion, he bore our transgressions in his body. He was numbered with the transgressors. But in his passion he restored communion, bearing the weight and guilt of our sin, but also by returning in the Spirit to communion with the Father. In that return he carried friends with him.
We see mercies breaking forth from the clouds. It is for proclaimers of the gospel to tell this Good News to the world around us. In the midst of pain, suffering, disease, hurt, and oppression, the mercies of God continue to break in healing streams that flow from the wounded side. But in the broken body of the Lord, mercies stream to those who will receive them and are extended in the proclamation of this good word of life.
These mercies can be seen in acts of love for victims of natural and human disaster. We can see these streams of mercy in gestures of our republic to care for the sick, the helpless, and the dying. Despite the dark clouds and the dim days, the mercies continue to burst.
"Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercies and shall break in blessings o'er your heads."
Let us pray for those who dare position themselves at the foot of the cross. Let us pray for those are chosen to bear the cross with Jesus, and those who for their love will not abandon him. Even while we pause to await the proclamation of the glorious triumph of the resurrection, let us not neglect to see the mercies of God that come to us from the identification of our savior with us on Calvary and the healing that comes from the cross.