Saturday 23 April 2011

Good Friday Vigil - Watching & Enduring

It was my privilege yesterday to lead the Three Hours Vigil in St Mary's, Nenagh, meditating on Christ's last words from the cross. We heard readings from scripture and reflections on them. We listened to Theodore Dubois' The Seven Last Words of Christ performed by the Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra. And we spent time in silence and prayer.

The Three Hours Vigil:
Watching and Enduring

Meditation on the Last Words of Christ
Good Friday, 22nd April 2011

·         In the next 3 hours we are going to join inwardly in events that happened nearly 2000 years ago, when Our Lord Jesus Christ was cruelly executed alongside two common criminals, after a travesty of a trial, on trumped up charges, at a place called Golgotha, just outside Jerusalem.
·         This is a vigil, not a church service.  Like all vigils, it is about watching and enduring.
o       We are the watchers. We are watching Jesus as he dies slowly, suffering in agony on a cross. And to help focus our thoughts, we have a life-size cross looming in front of us. It is made of rough-hewn timber, not sanded or varnished, roughly bolted together. The craftsman who made it to this specification would not allow his name to be put on it, because it does not properly display his skill. We can imagine that Jesus’s cross would not have been so very different, a crude, functional instrument of torture.
o       We are watching with Jesus, but we are not enduring. Jesus is enduring. He is enduring not just physical, but spiritual torments of desolation, as life drains from him.
o       And as we watch Jesus endure, let us try to make sense of this dreadful scene. Is it possible for us to feel – really feel - the magnitude of what Jesus, our Lord and saviour, our friend and brother, did for us so long ago on the cross? It’s difficult, at least I find it so. But let us try.
·         To help us, we’re going to meditate on the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross, as recorded by the Gospel writers. And to place these in context, we are first going to meditate on the events last night in the Garden of Gethsemane and the events of his trial first thing this morning.
·         Our meditation will be broken into 20 minute sections, during which we shall hear readings from the Gospels and reflections on the readings, we shall listen to the beautiful choral music of Théodore Dubois’s Seven Last Words, and we will also spend time just being still, pondering in silence the passion of Christ.

12.00 .      The Garden of Gethsemane

 “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark )

Reading    Mark 14:26-50


·         Jesus has just spent the evening sharing a meal with his disciples in an upper room – his last meal, the Last Supper, which we re-enact as the Eucharist, as Communion. Then he leads them out walking in the night, out of the city.
·         Let’s enter into the scene in our imaginations. There must have been a moon, or they could not have seen the way, but without street-lights the heavens would be ablaze with stars, such as we rarely see these days. It would be pleasantly warm. And as they walk Jesus talks, always teaching them. At the Mount of Olives, Jesus shocks them by saying that they will all desert him; they protest they never would. Then they go into a Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. I imagine fruit-trees in it: figs, vines, perhaps oranges and lemons. And no doubt carefully tended patches of herbs and vegetables. The air would be heavy with Mediterranean scents.
·         But Jesus is agitated. He knows this is the end-game; that at last the authorities are moving to arrest him; that the outcome will be his death. He leaves the others, taking only Peter and James and John with him. He is visibly distressed; he goes on ahead to pray by himself. “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake”, he asks them.
·         And alone now, Jesus opens his heart in prayer to his loving-Father God, “Remove this cup from me”, he pleads, “yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He knows what is in store for him: the cutting off of fellowship; the severing of joy; the utter darkness, loneliness and desolation beyond endurance. But yet he is perfectly obedient to God’s will, perfectly trusting in his Father’s love. He is a model for us of how to behave when we see the abyss open in front of us. As we will: of one thing we can all be certain, we will suffer the separation of death from all we love.
·         Jesus knows what is in store for him, but he does not waver in his trust in the love of God, not for one moment. Even when Peter and James and John cannot stay awake for a single hour to watch with him as he wrestles with the temptation to run away. Even when his chosen disciple Judas betrays him with a kiss. Even when all his disciples flee, as armed men take him away. He knows how unreliable they are, but even so, how it must hurt him! Would you or I be any different to them? Have we never been guilty of desertion or betrayal?

As we start our first period of silence, you might like to focus your thoughts on 2 things:
·         On Jesus’s perfect obedience to the will of our loving Father God, and
·         On our own unreliability as his disciples

Lord Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane you faced in prayer
 the devils last and greatest temptation:
 to take the easy way, the sensible solution,
 that was not the will of your Father.
Give us grace, Lord, to listen
 to the quiet insistent voice
 that draws us up the Calvary path,
 far from the world’s highway:
 the path that leads to the cross,
 but also to the empty tomb
 and the glory of resurrection;
 for your name’s sake. Amen
                                                            John Kingsnorth (adapted)

12.20                        The Trial

“If I tell you I am the Messiah, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:67-69)

Reading    Luke


·         One thing that strikes me about Luke’s story of Jesus’s trial is the sheer variety of people involved. As well as the great and powerful who sat in judgement, there are the ordinary folk: there’s Peter, trying to be inconspicuous in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, and there are those who challenged him there; there are the guards who taunted Jesus; and there’s the rent-a-mob who cried, “Crucify him”.
·         Peter was a brave man. John tells us it was Peter who cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant with his sword. And Peter dares to follow Jesus and his captors back to the High Priest’s house. Yet even brave Peter denies he knows Jesus three times: when the cock crowed, Jesus’s wordless glance reduces him to bitter tears. Would I have been more faithful? Surely not. I’m not as brave as Peter. But we can all take heart that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost turned the Peter who denied Christ into the Peter who declared his faith boldly in public.
·         The guards were brutal men. They blindfolded Jesus, they mocked him and they slapped him around a bit. The point was humiliation. There are still people like that today – just call to mind those shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib. We may not have done quite such ghastly things ourselves, but have we never been guilty of deliberately humiliating someone? Perhaps we’re not so different from them.
·         Jesus was actually tried 3 times, by 3 distinct authorities: by the Jewish assembly of elders, by Pilate the Roman Governor, and by Herod the ruler of Galilee.
o        A few years ago I saw a TV series on Christ’s passion. It gave a vivid picture of the self-serving, ruthless arrogance of the Temple leaders. To put him out of the way, they try to get Jesus to convict himself from his own lips of blasphemy, a capital offence in Jewish law. I believe Jesus really did think he was the Messiah, the Son of God. But according to Luke Jesus avoids saying so: he neither confirms nor denies it, saying instead the equivalent of ‘if you say so’. I prefer this to Mark’s account, where he says ‘I am’. It seems so much in character for Jesus to try to leave the outcome entirely in his Father’s hands. Yet, in their eagerness to be rid of Jesus, the elders break their own rules of evidence and convict him. But before we condemn them, ask yourself: am I any better? How often have I rushed to judgement, and condemned a court for releasing someone I believe to be guilty?
o        They send Jesus to Pilate because only the Roman occupiers can confirm a death sentence. But notice that they don’t accuse him of blasphemy in front of Pilate – that wouldn’t cut much ice with a Roman. Instead they accuse him of being a dissident, claiming he is King of the Jews. Pilate believes he is innocent, and doesn’t want to execute him. He tries again and again to find a way of letting Jesus off: he sends him to Herod, who mocks him and sends him back; he offers to have him flogged; and he seeks the approval of the rent-a-mob crowd to release him. But the mob howls for Jesus to be crucified and a murderer Barabbas to be released. And Pilate is a weak man; a weak man seeking to avoid trouble. He caves in under pressure and washes his hands of this innocent man. But before we condemn Pilate, ask yourself again, am I any better? How often have I gone along with the crowd, for the sake of an easy time, and given my tacit approval for something I know to be wrong?

Music         Introduction
O all ye who travel upon the highway,
Harken to me, and behold me;
Was e’er sorrow like unto my sorrow?
For the Lord Almighty hath dealt bitterly with me;
Call me now no more Naomi, from today call me Mara.

As we move into our 2nd short period of silent meditation, you might like to focus your thoughts on the human weaknesses displayed by the different characters in the story. Which of them are you most like?

O God our Father, whose Son was unjustly tried
 and sentenced to death,
 yet commanded us to love our enemies:
 strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience.
When they are accused, save them from speaking in hate;
 when they are rejected, save them from bitterness;
 when they are imprisoned, save them from despair.
And to us your servants give grace to respect their witness
 and to discern the truth: for the sake of Jesus Christ,
 our merciful and righteous judge. Amen
                                                            Episcopal Church, USA (adapted)

12.40         The 1st Word

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Reading    Luke 23:32-38

·      We have come to spend three hours in vigil from 12 to 3; but if we had arrived at Calvary at , we would have missed three of his seven words from the cross. We are told that they crucified him at 9 in the morning. The 1st word came as the nails were hammered into his hands and wrists: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
·      It’s astonishing, isn’t it? Here is someone more concerned for the people who are causing him agony than for himself who suffers the agony; and at the very moment that the agony is being caused! I remember the time that I slammed the car door shut on my mother’s fingers, God bless her. As I hopped around crying, “Mum, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to”, she screamed in pain and cursed me. She couldn’t forgive my carelessness in the moment of her excruciating pain. But Jesus could, even though he knew that they did mean to.
·         You might say, "Oh, Jesus could forgive because he was God." But that misses the point, I think, which is that God became a human being, one of us; and, as one of us, forgave his fellow human beings who caused him pain.
·         What is our attitude to those who give us pain? Is it modelled on Jesus? It’s hard to be forgiving, isn’t it? Particularly when the person who hurts us means to do so, or doesn’t mind hurting us. If we’re to imitate Jesus, we must ask ourselves, “Is there anyone I do not forgive?” There probably is, and if there is, shouldn’t we ask our loving-Father to forgive them, even if we can’t quite do so by ourselves?
·         And let us think for a moment of those who wielded the hammers, and drove home the nails. What a sin it was to crucify the best man who ever lived, the Messiah, the Son of God! But are we any better than them? Have we not driven home the nails ourselves, many times? I know there are times when my thoughtless, selfish actions have caused real hurt to others of God’s children, and there are times when I have lashed out deliberately, and times I have said things that can never be unsaid, in pain myself and driven to cause pain. I need to hear Jesus say to me, “Father, forgive him, for he does not know what he is doing”

Music         First Word
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
And the people clamoured,
“He is death guilty; take him; let us crucify him!
Be his blood on us then, and on our children!”
Then they did crucify Jesus and the two thieves,
One on his right hand, the other on his left hand.

As we sit in silence, let’s focus our attention on this cross in front of us. Let’s try to imagine Jesus hanging there, and marvel at his amazing capacity for forgiveness. As we hear him say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, let’s ask ourselves, “Is there someone I need to forgive”?

Lord Jesus Christ,
 you asked forgiveness for those who crucified you,
 for they did not know what they were doing.
We acknowledge that we are often caught in the web of the world’s sin;
 that we fail to recognise the deceitfulness of our own hearts,
 the depths of our own self-seeking;
 that we crucify you afresh.
Forgive us, O Lord, all our wrong doing,
 against you, our neighbour and ourselves,
 and help us to forgive those who cause us hurt;
 for your mercies’ sake. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings
 13.00         The 2nd Word
 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke )

Reading    Luke 23:39-43

·         Jesus did not hang on his cross alone - two others shared the agony with him. He was innocent, but they were not: they were criminals. We are not told what their crimes were, but I think they must have been pretty heinous. The Romans did not lightly sentence men to crucifixion. Today’s equivalent of their crimes might be murder in the course of a robbery, or child abuse, or a terrorist atrocity.
·         In his agony, one of these bad men taunts Jesus. Jesus does not respond in kind, he simply bears the insults. But the 2nd bad man rebukes the first: he acknowledges Jesus’s innocence, and he admits his own sentence is deserved. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus does respond to the second man, with his 2nd word from the cross: he says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
·         What a remarkable contrast between the two criminals who are suffering, and Jesus’s response to them! But what is it that makes the difference?
o        I think Jesus doesn’t respond to the 1st man, because nothing Jesus could say would do any good. The 1st man is so wrapped up in his own pain and degradation that he can only spew out hatred. His is a lost soul.
o        Even though the 2nd man is in the same agony, Jesus perceives that he loves God, that he knows he has done wrong, and that he is capable of feeling sorry for someone else, for Jesus. Jesus does not use his power to bring him down from the cross, to make it all better – that would be supernatural, and that doesn’t seem to be the way God works. Instead Jesus reassures the man that God loves him, even though, like Jesus, he is dying on a cross. It is really a spiritual miracle: despite all the mess, today they will truly be together in Paradise!
·         God calls each one of us to carry our own cross, as a Christian, in our own way. Perhaps it is only by enduring our own personal cross, enduring without losing sight of God’s love for us and our common humanity, as Jesus and the 2nd criminal did, that we too can be with Jesus in Paradise.

Music         Second Word
Verily, thou shalt be in paradise today with me.
Amen, so I tell thee.
Hear, O Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.


Another silence in the shadow of the cross. You might like to use it to think about your own personal cross, if you have one, or what it is that you most dread happening, if you don’t. Can you endure it, without losing sight of God’s love, and your own humanity?  Remember the words of Psalm 23:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
 for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
And let us pray for those who are suffering but cannot feel God’s loving touch, that feel unloved and unable to love. May they too hear Jesus say, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Lord Jesus Christ,
 you spoke the word of promise
 to the criminal who turned to you
 in the last hours of his life.
We thank you that it is never too late
 to repent and to believe in you.
Reassure all who, nearing death,
 acknowledge their sins
 and seek your grace and forgiveness.
Have mercy on all people, O Lord,
 and on us, unworthy sinners as we are,
 for you are our Saviour and Redeemer. Amen
Llewellyn Cumings

13.20         The 3rd Word

He said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27)

Reading    John 19:25b-27

·         Thank God I’ve never had to watch a public execution. It is an ugly thing, a degrading thing – that is the point of it, to degrade the victim. I find it hard to understand, but people have always thronged to watch them – even today where they’re still allowed. This degradation is part of what Jesus had to endure: his enemies jeering; the curious simply there for something to do, a bit of fun; those who loved him, grieving in front of his eyes.
·         It must be particularly gut-wrenching to watch the child you have loved and nurtured suffer the prolonged torture of crucifixion. It took hours, not just the 3 hours of this vigil. Yet Mary his mother finds the strength to stay close by Jesus in his agony. How completely torn she must be: repelled by his ghastly death, yet drawn to be near her beloved son in his last hours. In Mary at the cross we see an image of the eternal love at the heart of motherhood, and of the suffering it can bring. I thank God too that I have never had to suffer the death of a child.
·         Mary the mother of Jesus is supported in her vigil by four others: her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, as well as someone not named, but described as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’. Scholars have identified Mary’s sister as Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The ancient tradition of the Church is that the disciple Jesus loved was Salome’s son John, the writer of John’s Gospel. If scholars and tradition are right, it is Jesus’s cousin John who is there with Mary at the crucifixion.
·         It’s moving, isn’t it, that in his 3rd word from the cross on the brink of his death, Jesus should commit his mother Mary to the care of his cousin John, and John to the care of Mary, to look after each other, and to comfort each other’s loneliness when he was gone. A truly practical example of the love of God at work in evil times.
·         The first three words from the cross display Jesus’s compassion for others, even in the midst of his own torment: he has asked forgiveness for his torturers; he has assured the criminal of a place with him in Paradise; he has provided for his mother and the disciple he loved. He has hung on the cross now for more than 3 hours. There is nothing more he can do, but conserve his remaining strength for the job of yielding himself to death.

Music         Third Word
See, O woman, here behold thy son beloved.
See yon mother bowed in anguish,
Who beside the cross doth languish,
Where on high her son is borne.
Is there mortal who not feeleth
To behold her where she kneeleth,
So woeful and all forlorn.

As we watch in silence in front of the cross, we remember how Jesus gave Mary his Mother into the care of John, and John into the care of Mary. Let us remember all those who are bereaved and missing their loved-ones. Let us pray that they may find the love and support that Mary and John gave each other.
Lord Jesus Christ,
 in your last hours of pain
 you took thought for your mother
 and commended her to the beloved disciple’s care.
Help us, when trials overtake us,
 to have thought for our loved ones
 and for those in need about us.
Make us to know that we are members of your family,
 and that nothing can separate us from your love:
 for your name’s sake. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings

13.40         The 4th Word

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Reading    Matthew 27:45-49

·         Time has moved on as Jesus labours at dying. Now it is approaching 3 in the afternoon, and Jesus speaks again a 4th time: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
·         What terrifying implications flow from these words! Jesus has always felt himself so close to his loving-Father God. Has God really forsaken his obedient son, at this moment of his greatest need? If so, what hope is there for our wayward souls? Is our faith vain? We are compelled to seek answers.
·         The onlookers misunderstand Jesus’s words in Aramaic, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” They think he is crying out for Elijah, and some wonder whether that great prophet will come to save him miraculously. Could we too be misunderstanding him?
·         It is possible that as he waits to die Jesus is recalling a Psalm. Psalm 22 begins in desolation and dejection with these words, but it ends in soaring triumph:
He has saved my life for himself; my descendents shall serve him;
this shall be told of the Lord for generations to come.
They shall come and make known his salvation, to a people yet unborn,
declaring that he, the Lord, has done it.
Perhaps Jesus never experiences the withdrawal of the love of God at all. Or perhaps the evangelist puts these words in his mouth to echo the Psalm.
·         Some people suggest that this is the moment when Jesus feels the whole weight of the world’s sins, which he must do, so that he can atone for them and bring us salvation. Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians says, “For our sake (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Others don’t feel very comfortable with this theology of atonement, because it makes God out to seem more vengeful than loving.
·         Another way of looking at it is in more human terms. It seems to me that Jesus could not be Jesus unless he had plumbed the absolute depths of human experience. There are times when every one of us feels that God has forgotten us; when we simply cannot comprehend why a loving God would let some awful thing happen, and we feel absolutely alone and bereft. Perhaps this is such a moment for Jesus. It is very Hell! There is an echo of this in the Apostles’ Creed, where we say ‘He descended into Hell’. Isn’t it comforting to think that there is no place we might go, where Jesus has not been before us? Even Hell!

Music         Fourth Word
God, my Father, oh why hast thou forsaken me?
All those who were my friends, all have now forsaken me;
And they that hate me do now prevail against me,
And he whom I have cherished, he hath betrayed me.
Even the vine that I have chosen and that I have planted:
Wherefore art thou now so strongly turned into bitterness,
That I by thee am crucified?

Let us be silent again in front of the cross, as we think of the spiritual torment Jesus is expressing in the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When we feel forsaken and abandoned by God, let’s remember that Jesus has been there before us. It will pass.
Lord Jesus Christ,
 who endured the darkness of spiritual despair
 that you might bring us to God:
 be near to all who suffer alone
 and are conscious only of pain and darkness.
In the immensity of your compassion
 reveal yourself to them, O Lord,
 that they may know that they are not forsaken
 but are surrounded by your love:
 for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings

14.00         The 5th Word    

“I thirst!” (John 19:28)

Reading    John 19:28-29

·         Time is starting to move very slowly now for Jesus on his cross. On Golgotha it is nearly , and Jesus is close to death. But here we still have nearly an hour to watch with him.
·         Jesus’s 4th word from the cross revealed his mental and spiritual suffering. This 5th word, “I thirst”, reminds us again of his physical suffering. When he wrote his Gospel around 100AD, John may very well have included these words deliberately, to refute the views of Gnostic Christians that Jesus as God was pure spirit, and incapable of suffering as humans do. We can’t avoid Jesus’s suffering; even if we feel we can’t bear it, we mustn’t turn away; we have to face squarely the excruciating physical pain of the Cross. Excruciating – the word literally means ‘from a cross’.
·         So let us focus on what was involved with crucifixion.
o        The nails would have been hammered through Jesus’s wrists, not the palms of his hands as imagined in medieval pictures, because only bones can support the weight of a body.
o        The arms would be spread quite wide, because if the angle were narrow Jesus would have died too quickly from suspension asphyxiation. Even so he would have felt he could hardly breathe. And to get relief by hauling his body upward on the nails would be very painful.
o        Death could come either from asphyxiation, or by shock and dehydration. Liquid loss from the scourging and exposure in bright Judean sun would lead quickly to dehydration.
o        Jesus would have become very thirsty. As dehydration worsened, his heart would begin to race and his breathing would become fast, he would experience headache and nausea. At about 15% fluid loss he would begin to suffer muscle spasms and vision loss. Death would follow later.
o        It could take days to die on a cross. If the executioners wanted to speed the process up, they would smash the victim’s legs to cause traumatic shock and hasten death. Jesus did not have to suffer this because his death came mercifully fast, but the two criminals beside him did.
·         If you can bear it, look up at the cross behind me; imagine that broken body hanging there in excruciating pain. Excruciating pain which Jesus accepted obediently, as his loving Father’s will. Excruciating pain which Jesus accepted willingly, to show us the way to enter God’s kingdom.

Music         Fifth Word
I am athirst.
And the Jews, then passing by him, all did rail upon him,
And wagging their heads at him, they said unto him,
Vah! Thou wouldst fain destroy the temple,
If thou be Jesus, Son of the Father,
Now from the cross descend thou,
That we behold it, and believe on thee when we behold it.
If thou art king over Israel, save thyself then!”

Let us keep silence. No words can do justice to the courage Jesus shows as he endures the cross.

Lord Jesus Christ,
 you thirsted in anguish of body and soul on the cross:
 thirsting for drink;
 thirsting for the accomplishing of God’s work;
 thirsting for the salvation of the world.
In your infinite longings for us, O Lord,
 lead us to yourself, the fountain of living water,
 that we may find our thirst quenched
 in knowing you and doing your will,
 now and forever. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings

14.20         The 6th Word

 “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Reading    Luke 23:44-46a

·         The moment of Jesus’s release draws near; it will not be long now.
·         As a skilled storyteller Luke emphasises the tragic drama being played out on Calvary by describing an ominous darkness. The sun’s failure is an image of creation gone awry. Scholars and commentators are uncertain and divided on the significance of the rending of the curtain of the temple. But you may like, as I do, this thought: it is as if the veil hiding the presence of God from us was torn down as Jesus died. From now on all people have direct and equal access to God, through Jesus’s self-sacrifice upon the cross.
·         The next to last word Jesus utters on the cross is a prayer, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” If he had felt truly forsaken by his God earlier, now he is confident once again that God loves him. He offers his spirit back to God, in the certainty that God will keep it safe.
·         “Into your hands I commend my spirit” is a quotation from Psalm 31. In later centuries this psalm was often used in Jewish evening prayer to commend oneself into God's care during the night's sleep. There is something very childlike and trusting in the way Jesus uses this verse. Who knows, perhaps Mary taught her little son to say it as a bed-time prayer, as my mother taught me this one:
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
·         To this verse Jesus adds the word “Father”. Jesus was not alone in addressing God as Father, “Abba” in Aramaic, but it was characteristic of his teaching. He taught his disciples, and you and me, to pray to “Our Father in heaven”.  This not only teaches us that God is like a loving father to us, but also teaches us that Jesus is like our brother. He is one of us, experiencing all the joys and sorrows that we experience.

Music         Sixth Word
Father into thy hands I now commend my soul.
For thou art my God and my Father.

As we keep silence under the cross, let us look our own death squarely in the eyes, and ask for the grace to be able to pray with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Lord Jesus Christ,
 who in the hour of death committed yourself
 into your Father’s hands:
 be with us when the time comes
 for our departure from this world.
May your grace sustain us at the end;
 may we know ourselves accepted by our Father;
 and may we pass peacefully into your presence,
 where faith turns to sight,
 where we shall see you face to face,
 and we shall be forever with the Lord. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings

14.40                        The 7th Word

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Reading    John 19:30-42

·         The other Gospels tell us that at the moment of his death Jesus uttered a great cry, but only John tells us what it was: “It is finished!” It is a shout of triumph. He didn’t whisper it, like someone forced to admit defeat. He didn’t mouth it in relief that his agony is over. He threw back his head and he shouted it. “I have done it!” he is saying, “I have faced the very worst, and I have won!”
·         By his victory won upon the cross, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our friend and brother, shows us all the way to vanquish sin and death with the weapons of love. It is only left to us to follow.
·         The note of triumph in Jesus’s last word from the cross this Good Friday is a foretaste of his resurrection which we celebrate this Sunday. But before we meet him again on Easter Morning, we must follow him to the tomb, as Matthew tells us his mother Mary does with Mary Magdalen.
·         In Jewish law, in Deuteronomy (), it is written: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day.” The Temple authorities have no option but to arrange with Pilate for the bodies of Jesus and the two criminals to be taken down.
·         But where to bury him? No doubt the little party of disciples from Galilee does not have the resources to do so decently. Two people step forward to help. Joseph of Arimathea is rich and powerful, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a secret disciple of Jesus: he provides the tomb - his own, we are told. Nicodemus is also a secret disciple; he had visited Jesus at night, because he was afraid to do so publicly: he provides the ointments and spices needed to embalm the body. Together they make sure that Jesus is buried with decent reverence.
·         It’s amazing, isn’t it? These two people, who were afraid to support Jesus publicly while he was alive, are able to do so as soon as he is dead. All the cowardice, the hesitation, the prudent concealment are gone. Jesus has not been dead an hour, when his words reported by John () begin to come true: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus is already showing his risen power to be a magnet of souls.
·         But we are running ahead. Here, now, Jesus has just cried “It is finished!” His lifeless corpse hangs on the cross in front of us. Yet he is victorious. Let us meditate on that.

Music         Seventh Word
It is finished!
And he did bow his head and rendered up his spirit.
And it was about the sixth hour, and the sun was darkened,
And darkness covered the earth until about the ninth hour;
And the veil of the temple was rent, and all the earth did quake;
And the rocks were rent, and all the graves were opened wide.

Christ, we do all adore thee,
And we do praise thee forever,
For on the holy cross hast thou
The world from sin redeemed.
Christ, we do all adore thee,
And we do praise thee forever,

As we move into our last period of silence in front of the cross, let us use the beautiful words of the C14th Latin prayer Anima Christi to focus our thoughts. It goes like this:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, refresh me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesu, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to Thee
That with thy saints I may praise Thee 
For ever and ever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ,
 you willingly suffered on the cross
 all that was necessary for our eternal salvation
 and drained the cup of sacrifice to the last.
We thank you for your great work of redemption,
 achieved once for all at infinite cost,
 by which we are reconciled to God.
Help us to rest our faith on what you have done
 and to know that the way to the Father’s presence
 is open to us all through the cross,
 now and forevermore. Amen
                                                            Llewellyn Cumings