Luke 23:31: Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Luke 23: 40-43: But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you
fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished
justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing
wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be
with me in paradise."
John 19: 25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's
sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and
the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother."
Matthew 27: 46: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means,
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
John 19: 28-30: Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that
the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk
of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus
said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his
head and gave up his spirit.
Luke 23:46: Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said
this, he breathed his last.
The eighteenth-century composer Franz Joseph Haydn set the words of Christ on the cross
to music a number of times. In his earlier versions, his compositions for orchestra,
string quartet, or keyboard were intended for interludes, each played on Good Friday
between the cathedral bishop's reading from the pulpit of the seven sayings of Christ.
In later versions, Haydn had the words sung by a baritone soloist, and each saying
was commented on by a choral poem. The poems were both responses to Christ's words and
reflections on the significance of their deeper meaning. Even in these
versions, Haydn provided for interludes that allowed the audience to reflect on the
significant of what was being sung.
This use of both choral commentary and orchestral meditation strikes me as important.
We need responses involving words and silence. Commentary in general is produced for
others, while meditation is done for oneself. The former works to make explicit the
richness of a text. It takes time to illustrate and explain, to define and
contextualize. The later surprisingly does something of the same: it allows a reader
to reflect slowly and intently on what a text means. Commentary and meditation can
be deeply interdependent because both study closely meaning. Both call for precise
attention, careful reading, as well as application and internalization. Both can be
resources of obedience, and both require repeated practice to unpack the meaning that is
abundantly there. In a sense, we must always act on what we have learned before we
can truly say that we have learned it.
When I reflect on Christ's words on the cross, I am struck how he acted through his
words: he requested; he commanded; he promised; he questioned, and he fulfilled.
With each sentence, he showed us both his human and divine natures. He provided for
his mother, suffered, cared for a repentant criminal, and yet felt the sacrifice that tore
at the heart of the Godhead. He also provided for all humanity.
I am also struck by my own unworthiness to speak to these sayings. How can I
fathom the depths of such a mystery as God dying for me? And this is why I need both
commentary and meditation, for words so rich and profound need a lifetime to understand
and live with. No one person alone can fully plumb them.