Good Friday and Holy Saturday – a short reflection on the Seven Last Words and Christ in the tomb

The 7 Last Words:

  1. “Father, forgive them,  they know not what they do.” Luke 23:33-38
  2. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
  3. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” John 19:25–27
  4. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-49 & Mark 15:34
  5. “I thirst.” John 19:28-29
  6. “It is finished.” John 19:30 – (From the Greek “Tetelestai” which is also translated “It is accomplished.”)
  7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:44-46

Here is a summary I have drawn from my reading and prayer of how one might think through these 7 last words and their order: 

Sinners, Penitents, Saints

Christ_in_the_Tomb_and_a_detail_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

As He is bleeding to death and suffocating during Tre Ore, going into hemorrhagic/hypovolemic shock and hypercarbic/hypoxemic respiratory failure, Christ first thinks of others (#1 and #2), showing us the Divine way to imitate and the enduring hope of forgiveness and late life conversion. Then in #3, He hands the world an answer, a “way,” in that we can/should keep our mind on Him through the guidance of Mother Mary as He directs us to the relationship (John and Mary) that He wants for ALL humanity moving forward: a Mother who will always turn our gaze to Him. His humanity is on full display in #4 and #5, as His suffering is manifest for us to identify with in times of our own suffering. In #6 and #7, He appropriately comes back to the Father and finishes His Earthly journey, handing His sould over to God the Father and Holy Spirit, just like we must do: v=V. “May Your DIVINE Will (Voluntas) become my will (voluntas). I discussed this v=V in depth with patients and their families throughout this week in the ICU, and we found it extremely helpful.

So the mystical sequence here is 1. Forgiveness, 2. Salvation, 3. Relationship, 4. Abandonment, 5. Distress, 6. Triumph and 7. Reunion.

Whom did Christ address first when speaking to His Father from the Cross? Fulton Sheen points out in the Last Seven Words…the order was first Sinners….then who….Penitents…then lastly the Saints Mary and John. Sinner, penitents, saint.  Let us proceed in that order. As for the order of sinner, penitent, saint, it parallels the ascent and assent that we are all called to make: Hell (sin), Purgatory (penitence), Heaven (saints).

Christ in the Tomb – famous painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1520-22 (2 meters long, 30 cm high, location is Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland). The body is life-size, and legend states that the artist used the body of a drowned man as a model. Dr. Katya Jordan writes, “The unembellished, gruesome depiction of the crucified Christ is what makes the painting particularly notable. The painting portrays the dead Christ’s flesh beginning to rot, his body battered, and his face showing not only marks of spiritual and emotional grief, a common artistic trope of the time period, but also actual physical anguish.”  Dostoyevsky (and Ralph Wood) consider this a favorite. In fact, Dostoyevsky’s wife, in 1867, had to drag her husband away from the panel to avoid him going into a seizure.

CHRIST’S TOMB (Holy Saturday) – How should we approach anyone who is not in Grace, but rather in sin (i.e., you and me)? …for example, how do we see those who don’t believe in Christ – Houselander reminds us, “He is in them as in the Tomb. He remains, being tempted in all those who are tempted: in those who are in mortal sin, He is in the tomb. We should never come to a sinner without the reverence that we would take to the Holy Sepulcher (Jesus’ burial tomb in Jerusalem). Pilgrims have traveled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulcher, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lives. Christ is in Gethsemane in all those who are crushed by fear, by shame, by the sense of guilt, by the neurotic type of scruple, by the sensitive awareness of the tragedy of the world and of sin as its cause. He is present in all those who are afraid of the sacrifice asked of them and who seek help and sympathy and the prayers of others.” Caryll Houselander, Reed of God, “The Way” p. 170-71

Consider this…”The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.”  Immerse yourself in this. Very helpful is to consider that ‘hurry’ here consisted of a journey. We are on such a journey. Be patient with all on this journey.

Pax Christi,

Wes Ely, MD, MPH (Vanderbilt, President, Catholic Medical Association)

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