St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The Seven Words

The Seven Words                                                                         -Homily March 20, 2016

 

A great rhetorician, famous speaker, said once: “If I will speak for five minutes, I need three days to prepare myself. If I will speak for one hour, three hours of preparation may be enough. But if I have to speak for three hours, I can begin any time.” He was so learned that he had enough material to speak for hours without having to prepare too much. But when you have just a little time to convince the audience, you have to think very well what you will say.

 

I am not going to speak for three hours today, don’t be afraid. Today I want to speak about the homily of Jesus from the Cross. He had three hours to preach, plenty of time. But he didn’t have the breath… Jesus on the cross died one of the most terrible deaths, by asphyxiation. That is why his homily was so brief in words, but so deep in meaning. He could not use many words because of lack of breath. He had to choose his words very well, and be very brief. But each word was tinted by his blood, it was ratified by his life and his suffering. Nobody has ever preached a homily like this. Seven words, before death, from the pulpit of the Cross. I will also be brief.

 

And the first word: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had told us to love and pray for our enemies. Now he teaches us by his example. He also teaches us the way: he was not content only to forgive, he wanted also to excuse his enemies: “they don’t know.” He teaches us that, in his first coming, he came to the world to forgive, not to judge. He wants to forgive, he died to forgive, he forgave while he was dying the very people who were killing him. Who can say that Jesus would not forgive him? Those words were for you, who think that you cannot be forgiven. Jesus knows that you did not know; or that you did know perhaps, but very little indeed. His hands are nailed, but not his tongue, not his heart, and he releases the torrent of his mercy for you and for everyone to drink and have their fill. He forgives, he wants to forgive.

 

The second word is the effect of the first word: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). If anyone doubted that Jesus was serious about forgiveness, here you are: the same person who was insulting him a few minutes ago (cf. Matthew 27:44), repented, forgiven, and been promised the rewards of the saints on that very day.

 

The third word is also a gift of mercy: the gift of his own mother. “Woman, behold, your son!... Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27). She had been a good mother for him, he entrusted us to her. Poor Mary, what an exchange! She had been with Jesus all the time, she fed him and accompanied him in good and in bad. She does the same with us, she is our Mother.

 

The fourth word is the most amazing: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He is teaching us that he is not only God but also a true man, and he knows by experience what it means to obey, and what it means to feel forsaken by God. He is not in despair, he is praying, he is talking to God. He is praying with the Scriptures, with the Psalm 22. He is setting an example for us, for us to follow when we suffer.

 

The fifth word: “I thirst” (John 19:28). But he refuses what they give him to drink. Because what he desires ardently is not to quench his body, but the fire of his love. The flame of his passion is only quenched with our faith and repentance. He wants the same drink that he asked from the Samaritan woman: her faith. We can certainly console Jesus: the tears of our repentance, the tears of our compassion for him or for our brothers and sisters who suffer with him. This is the drink for which he thirsts.

 

The sixth word is: “It is finished” (John 19:30). It means: “The work is finished, the work of salvation I have come to perform is now done. The message is preached, the Church is founded, the sins are forgiven, the paradise is promised. The work of my earthly life is finished. I have shown in bodily form the love of God. I am the wounded face of the love of God. Look at me, you human beings! This is how much God can do for you, how much he wants you to be for ever with him in Heaven. My suffering is the price of your happiness. Just love me back.

 

The seventh word is a word full of hope for us: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). This is the way a Christian looks at death: we let ourselves go and fall, because we know that we are falling into the hands and into the care of God. When night comes we go hastily to bed, and we rejoice in our rest. When death comes, it is much better than that: we commend our body to the earth, but our spirit to God. An abyss of sweetness awaits us in God, the eternal reward of our temporal works. We leave the earth to enter Heaven. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

 

Jesus spoke about mercy from the cross. He made it very short: “I want to forgive you, I give you my Mother, I promise Heaven to the repentant. I have given you my mercy and my love. I thirst for your love: please love me back.”

May we listen to his voice. –Fr. Andrew