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The Seven Sayings of Christ on the Cross


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.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding