The holiest of endings

In previous postings, I reviewed five of the seven last words or sets of words attributed to Jesus on the cross. As this is holy week, the last two sets will be reviewed: one from Luke and the other from John. 

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Luke 23:46

According to Luke’s Gospel, these are the words of Jesus before breathing His last. Similar to the first set, these are directed to the Father, illustrating that God is receiving His sacrifice. While the Pharisees believe they are putting an end to an annoyance, the reality is that Jesus is The Lamb whose blood is being shed for all sinners. The religious elders of that time were very familiar with the sacrificial lamb used in the Passover supper, like the one that was just celebrated the night before. But they expected an earthly king who would wipe out all of their enemies, namely the nations that were oppressing them. Jesus challenged what they knew and understood about God. They may have practiced the theory, but it was more about stubbornly following tradition as if it was a legal obligation rather than having a relationship with God. 

This is a model way to die — to entrust ourselves to God. It’s also the best way to live. All too often our human nature whispers the ancient enchantment that we should know all and decide all for ourselves; basically playing god to get what we want. Only we find out that we spend way too much time and energy chasing after things that do not satisfy us. It’s the paradox that people still need to be convinced of, that when they give up their desires and seek God’s will, they become freer and more of themselves than they ever would have been by controlling their lives. Jesus’ final moments continue to be one of instruction and example. It expresses the mission of every person across the ages: to turn to God, making a sacrifice of their life to do His will. 

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, It is finished.”

John 19:30

The Gospel of John attributes slightly different words at the end of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paired with the fifth set of last words, “I thirst,” these words not only convey the finality of death, but seem to be stating the obvious rather than imparting wisdom. Yet the coupling of these phrases paints a picture of a Passover that has taken on a whole new meaning, a new covenant. This Passover started just like most others did, but completely deviated from the traditional celebration when Jesus changed the bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — and in the process consecrated the Apostles as the first priests who would “Do this in remembrance of me.” The need for the traditional Passover feast of the lamb had been completed. Jesus had created a continuum from the Last Supper through to the Crucifixion, to be re-presented at every Mass that followed. These two events are not merely linked, but intertwined; the Eucharist requires the sacrifice of the cross and vice-versa. 

In this new covenant, Jesus restores what sin ruptures. It was the purpose of His life on earth. He is a model of how to be human and have a relationship with the Father. His last words, in whichever Gospel version you review, point to who He is (the Son of God) and summarizes His mission. As we remember and honor these last words during the holiest time of the year, may the ending of Jesus’ life on earth bring a rebirth of our relationship with the all-loving and all-merciful God.

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