By Steven Norris
As a pastor, I have spent considerable time with people nearing death. When you know that your time is limited, it clarifies priorities. There is little space for small talk, leaving room only for a laser-like focus on what is truly important.
Compiled together, the four gospel accounts record 7 sayings of Jesus that were uttered from the cross. Medical experts tell us that these would have come at great cost, for the physical pain of a crucified person speaking would have been excruciating. They open a window, revealing what Jesus thought was most important as he approached the end of his earthly life.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This Jesus who had instructed the disciples to “turn the other cheek” modeled that compassion as he looked down from the cross. Instead of calling down curses on his persecutors, he responded with blessing, thereby undermining their hatred and refusing to participate in the cycle of retribution.
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To one of the thieves crucified beside him, Jesus offers hope. Though he would have no chance of baptism, no chance to pay back his victims, and no chance to engage in penance, he is offered grace and acceptance.
“Woman, behold, your son! . . . Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27). As a widow, Mary would have been completely dependent on her son for care. Concerned for her well-being and in preparation for her future without him, Jesus entrusted her to the care of his disciple.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Is it possible that the cross presented Jesus with a crisis of faith? Staring into the abyss of death and sin, he experienced a loneliness that engulfed him — a sense of divine abandonment.
“I thirst” (John 19:28). Despite the Christian conviction that Jesus was fully divine, his humanity was also on display in this vulnerable moment of need.
“It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word translated here is tetelestai. The telos refers to the final and ultimate goal. Jesus is saying here that the goal has been reached. The plan has been accomplished. There is no more to do. He is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). When we know where we are from and where we are returning, the fear of uncertainty is removed. This is the kind of faith that Jesus models for us all.
On the corner of Hill and Taylor, an art installation juxtaposes these last words of Christ amidst the backdrop of debris from the January 12th storms. The contrast plucks these words from ancient history and deposits them squarely into our present context. When have we felt abandoned by God? When have we thirsted? When have we needed God’s grace? When have we been called to extend forgiveness and grace?
The installation will be up through this Easter weekend. I invite you to come, reflect, listen, and be changed by these “Words from the Rubble.”