Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reflecting on the Seven Last Words...

Just a quick stop in before heading to Philadelphia for some time with Dan.


The conversation with Martin continues.

Jeremy G and Mario are in for another in our ongoing conversations. The open choir and the seed group have continued to meet. There’s been enough excitement that Mario decided to come back from Italy to see what’s going on. Jeremy G is going to apply for a grant to bring together a symposium to pursue the issues that are emerging.

Mario continues to be drawn towards bringing already existing groups and communities together in some new ways. Sometimes the most conservative, compassionate, caring yet exclusive groups.  My interest continues to be in helping new communities come together. Drawn together through an experience, bonded through mutual commitment and accountability and reaching out to others in service.  That seems to be how Jeremy G’s work is emerging. And how does that connect to West-Park? Can communities of question, acceptance and openness grow like conservative communities?  Can it be one of the communities within a community? That idea is coming back into focus again.

Our weekly Bible Study tonight focuses on the traditional Seven Last Words of Christ. The traditional order is:
1.    Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
2.    Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.
3.    John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.
4.    Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
5.    John 19:28: I thirst.
6.    John 19:29-30: It is finished.
7.    Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

In terms of cross harmonization, we find:
·       In Matthew and Mark :
·       My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
·       In Luke:
·       Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
·       Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise (in response to one of the two thieves crucified next to him)
·       Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (last words)
·       In John:
·       Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (directed at Mary, the mother of Jesus, either as a self-reference, or as a reference to the beloved disciple and an instruction to the disciple himself)
·       I thirst (just before a wetted sponge, mentioned by all the Canonical Gospels, is offered)
·       It is finished (last words)

The Seven Last Words is another of those traditions that arose in the Middle Ages when the population was illiterate and only ever heard the Bible in Latin. The Seven Last Words were a teaching harmonization presented liturgically, like lessons and carols, to present one coherent story to the people.

At West-Park, for years we had a special Good Friday Seven Last Words service led by your youth and children. The idea troubled me at first, but over the years, I came to appreciate it as a teaching experience with very ancient roots. 

After reading expanded sayings, that is with the contextual paragraphs, we go back and read each story separately. Try and discern the focus of each gospel writer.
We also see two overall themes, forsakeness and forgiveness.

Mark emphasizes the forsakeness. Jesus quotes Psalm 22, a Psalm that begins is desolate abandonment but ends in affirmation and praise. It is also a blue print for the crucifixion story, including mocking and scorn (6-8, 12-13), thirst (15), clothing divided by lots (18), piercing (16), almost all the elements. And then from 19-31 triumph.

We believe that the sense of abandonment is real. If Jesus is fully human, he must feel that to the center of his being, otherwise he will not know us. I grew up with empty crosses. We regarded crucifixes as pagan,idolatrous. Only later did I realize that often  the empty cross is a protection from, avoidance of the real suffering in the world. It was actually first in the small hill towns of New Mexico that I fully understood how people saw themselves in the figure on the cross and felt strengthened by the sense that somehow God understood them.

Matthew (27: 32-54) only includes this word, although his story is rich with all kinds of other details. Like all kinds of dead people raised from the graves and walking around.(53) Like one of the interns in our study group said, the zombie story. Walking dead style.

In Luke 23: 26-47,  we have the shift from inward to outward.  The offering of forgiveness to the crucifiers (34) and the confession  of the (so-called) good thief. (43) And we note:
* Crucifixion was for political criminals, those who attacked military and commercial targets on behalf of the resistance. It was a way to terrorize the population. Only the Romans could do that. Jews could only stone, with the permission of the Romans.
* The accusing thief echoes Psalm 22 again. There was a tradition in Egypt that the good thief had encountered Jesus as an infant and let the holy family get away free. He is the first to confess Jesus as Lord, given the desertion of Peter and the disciples.
* Paradise was where souls hung out wit God until the day of physical resurrection. A Garden of Eden like holding area.

In John (19: 1-37), we find both the inner and outer. Though John never directly quotes Psalm 22, it echoes throughout his telling of the story. The outward compassion of commending the one he loved and his mother to care for one another. The expression of thirst (Ps.22 again). The imagery of the Passover ( no broken bones) for the first time creating a sacrificial expiation image. Hyssop, another passover reference. Water and blood, both medically accurate, as Anna tells us, but also an image of baptism and eucharist. And that final expression, It is finished, not so much his life, as his earthly work.

As each gospel writer had his own perspective, as we look at their work, so will we. The seven last words weave a narrative coming from different streams into one chronology. It’s not a factual history but an expression of truth.

On this we will reflect on Good Friday.

for previous years' Seven last Words reflections go to:

No comments:

Post a Comment