Seven Last Words Meditations: An Introduction

Holy Friday icon fresco

The Passion of Jesus recalls the last days of Jesus’s earthly mission and his death on the Cross.  Indeed, some scholars and theologians have surmised that the early Gospel books themselves are introductions, preludes as it were, to the Passion story.

Yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem were part of Christian tradition until the Middle Ages was access to the Holy City was denied.  The Stations of the Cross procession, with its drama, hymns  and prayers, were enacted in towns, cities and villages with an actor as Jesus carrying the Cross and other actors portraying figures mentioned in the Bible—-Mary Theotokos, Mary the Magdalen, Simon of Cyrene , Veronica—-who  play their parts as the crowd follows along.

It ends at the site of the Crucifixion where the Seven Last Sayings of Jesus provide us with insight into the inner thoughts of Jesus and opportunities for us to  interpret and make  meaning for our own lives, two thousand years later.

The Sayings themselves come from all four canonical Gospels and are arranged, like the Nativity story, from excerpts of each Gospel.  

The Seven Last Words service is held on Good Friday from noon to three in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and African American Christian parishes. In certain Orthodox parishes, one saying is read each night starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Great and Holy Friday.

Imagine hearing each saying on Good Friday afternoon, having it read to you as you sit in the pews, or stand in the church.  A musical meditation follows each reading.  

Or read these offerings presented by Axia one each evening of Holy Week or a few together on alternate evenings, or all at once.  In any event it is meant to be an immersive experience.

Jesus is in great pain.  He is dying in public humiliation after years of teaching, healing, and coming together with people, Jews and Gentiles alike.  He has spoken words of hope and promise.

How do these sayings and Scripture readings affect you.  Jesus is talking to and about his Father.  He calls out in the language and tradition of Israel.  He cares for his mother.  And in his final words he commits himself to God, his Father.

You are invited to read each of these sayings and meditate on the Word that is given and the commentary that accompanies it.  As caring and practicing Christians we urge you to delve into Scripture sources, theological texts, and popular writings you can find on line and in libraries and bookstores.  I see this as a way to be with Jesus in his last moments and reflect on his life and words.  There on the Cross is Jesus, human and divine.  Think about what this means and consider the questions that people have raised through the generations:  Why is Jesus suffering?  Where is his Father?  What and  why are we called to witness?  Why has God come to earth a poor Jew, a man without citizenship, in a powerful earthly empire?  How did Jesus understand his mission?  What was happening to those who looked on—- his mother and the women who loved him, the soldiers, the people in the crowd.

There is so much to feel, so much to think about, so much to discuss with family, parish members, priests and spiritual fathers and mothers.   Here’s wishing you a blessed and prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Pascha.

Here is a commentary by Fr Vladimir Berzonsky.   

And other set of reflections from the Malankara Orthodox Church

Judith Scott is a frequent blogger for Axia Women, and one of our board members.

Judith WOW 1