>The readings for many Tenebrae services come from Gospel of John. They are John’s testimony about the final hours of Jesus’ life. Yet on Good Friday, there is also a tradition of listening to all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. We know this tradition as the service of the Seven Last Words. Seven words spoken from the cross; seven words on Jesus’ lips at his final hour; seven words to ponder, reflect, remember, and share. It should not be surprising that the church pays close attention to these words. Words uttered at or near death always seem weighty and pregnant with meaning. So we lean close and listen hard to discover any prayers whispered, questions asked, sufferings vocalized, instructions given, reassurances shared, or hopes bequeathed.
Luke gives us Jesus’ first and second words. Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (23:34) and Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise (23:43). A word of forgiveness offered to all and a word of assurance to one dying man. John gives us the third word: Woman, here is your son and to the disciple Here is your mother (19:26,27). Mark and Matthew both give us Jesus’ dying question, the fourth word: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? John gives us the fifth and sixth words: I thirst and It is finished (19:28,30). Luke gives us the seventh word: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (23:46).
I direct your attention to the sixth and the last word. The sixth word: it is finished. Jesus’ declaratory statement begs the question. What is IT? His life on earth? That point was so blatantly obvious, it seems redundant to mention. It is finished. John gives us a clue a sentence or two earlier in the gospel: After this, when Jesus knew that all was finished, he said (in order to fulfill scripture), “I am thirsty.” – It is finished – whatever the IT was, it had something to do with scripture, it had something to do with the prophets, it had something to do with Israel, and I believe, it has something to do with us.
On the cross, Jesus cried out “it is finished,” and many thought that was the last word on the matter. It is finished – the promised messiah foretold by prophets and prayed for by priests has come in Jesus. It is finished – the letter of the law, God’s holy Torah, can no longer be separated from the spirit the law, the two are one in Jesus. It is finished – the need for animal sacrifice to atone for sin is over. It is finished – the time when one act of violence must be accompanied by a counter act of violence is renounced. It is finished – the power of sin to enslave, to entrap, and to destroy has been conquered. It is finished – death, the last enemy to be destroyed has been met on the battle field of Golgotha. It is finished. Odd that in these words we, as Christ disciples, find our beginning – but we will save the rest of that story for Sunday.
And now to the last word. Notice I said last, not the seventh – for tonight I want to introduce you to an eighth word that rarely gets noticed. As strange as it may sound, the eighth word is a non-word, but that does not make it any less important or significant. As strange as it may sound, the eighth word is not a word from Jesus, but it is a word from God. As strange as it may sound, the eighth word can only be “heard” by a people who believe in a triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There are several places in the gospels where the shrouded mystery of the Trinity peers around the curtain of human understanding and is seen in bold relief. At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, the Son is immersed beneath the waters, the Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father speaks from the heavens. On the mount of Transfiguration, the Son’s clothes become dazzling white, the Spirit envelopes all present like a cloud and the Father, once again, speaks from the heavens. And tonight, on a hill far away, on a mount named Golgotha, on a rock called the Place of the Skull – the Son dies, the Spirit bears witness through a centurion, and the Father utters the last word – or non-word – from the heavens: SILENCE.
Silence from heaven. This is the last word worthy of our meditation and reflection. This is the last word worth pondering and listening to on this holy … on this GOOD Friday. Silence. Let us observe it. Let our prayers today be bathed in it. Let us walk in it some today and tomorrow – until it is broken in three days. Amen.