Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

The seven last words of Jesus

8 Apr 2020, 7:30 p.m.

Last Words

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

and he bowed his head and handed over his spirit.

John 19:30

These are amongst the most poignant words in Scripture. Jesus, who had been suffering on the cross for hours, parched and in pain, under a hot sun, says “It is finished” in his dying breath.

One wonders how audible these three words would have been to a noisy crowd standing near the cross. May be they were not, even though John still managed to hear and record them, and perhaps that is the point. These are not words of triumphalism; they are not the words of some victorious leader vanquishing an opponent in battle. Neither are they the dialogue of defeat. Instead, they are the words of confidence, trust and love. They convey in a simple and humble way the completion of God’s work. The Almighty Father brought about our salvation, through the son, and that is expressed with “It is finished”. It is true that the glorification of Christ was yet to come, through the resurrection and ascension, but his death on the cross was necessary for the rest to happen. Some in the crowds may have expected the use of more dramatic language, perhaps, but they fit the life and ministry of Jesus. The ‘Beloved Son’ was born in a mean stable, allowed himself to be baptised by another, and washed the feet of the disciples. The simple words on the cross are befitting of Christ’s life and his trust in the Father.

This theme of humility, and indeed simplicity, appears in the second part of the sentence. Here we read that Jesus bowed his head and handed over his spirit. There is no triumphalist note in these words either. Jesus did not magically jump off the cross and then everything was ok. No. What we read is far from it. The word spirit can be interpreted in different ways, but the Greek pneuma really refers to ‘life’: Jesus handed over his life on the cross. It reminds us that through his death he handed his life to God and to the whole of humanity. Again, this is low-key self-emptying for others; it is Christ’s selfless sacrifice for the world.

These words, therefore, remind us to be humble in all things and that we should follow our lord through his example in life and also in death. We hear much about taking up your cross and so on, especially at a time like Holy Week, but there is something that we can gain from the moment of Christ’s death, too. His death led him to give up his life for others, and this in turn led the way for humanity to be reconciled with God and receive eternal life. However, we should also be self-sacrificing as well, by giving things up for the good of others. I think that we can all recognise that this message is particularly pertinent at this time in our history. People up and down our country have, often with no prompting at all, put things to one side to help others. The NHS service with its doctors, nurses, specialists, care workers, porters and many others, together with all involved in the care of all suffering with the virus, offer a true example of self-sacrifice. Let ‘self-sacrifice’ be our mantra this week and always. We can live this out in a quiet, unflashy and simple manner. Christ’s death has shown us a way to follow.

Nick Baker