Jesus’ Seven Last Words, sayings offered from the cross, may serve as guidance for the spiritual life. You are invited to contemplate each saying during the seven Wednesdays of Lent and Holy Week.
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,” sings the Taizé chant. I often sing it as I drive to events in which this introvert is called upon to be an extrovert, this writer expected to speak or lead or counsel. It calms me, but it also reminds me who and what my work is all about. I believe I’m better at “selling” Jesus than myself. And God knows I have more inspiration to do so.
Of course “Jesus, remember me etc.” are the words of the “good” criminal who challenges the one who mocks Jesus as all three are crucified together. Jesus responds, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a comfort to hear this straight from Jesus!
But none of us have to be on a cross to hear these words. We could just be having a bad day. We could even be having a good day. Paradise is available in the here and now, not just the sky by and by.
“I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,” the writer of Revelation hears Jesus saying. This is a mystic’s vision. This was also the experience of everyday disciples on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion.
Theologian Karl Rahner famously said that the Christian of the future will need to be a mystic. Being a mystic, then, is not “above our pay grade.”
To see beyond Jesus’ suffering, just as to see beyond our own, a hopeful vision is required. For the early Christians, that hopeful vision was to view Jesus’ sacrifice replacing the need for animal sacrifice, just as child sacrifice was replaced by animal sacrifice in the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Though these visions may not inspire us today, both could be considered theological advances of their eras. I explained this in detail in Coming Out as Sacrament. I also explained that both Roman and Jewish legal cultures of Jesus’ time expected a transgressor to offer some kind of expiation or sacrifice to make things right. This is the context for the understanding that Jesus served as that expiation.
Julian of Norwich believed that sin and evil had no “essence,” and that, rather than blaming us for sin, God pitied us for the pain it causes us.
Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned the crucifixion arousing in us that which at-ones us with God: compassion. Reading Julian I realize that the cross is equally an emblem of God’s compassion.
Contemplating a crucifix, she observes, “Thus I saw how Christ has compassion for us because of sin.” Translator Father John-Julian paraphrases Julian, “Christ en-joys the Passion, that is, submerges it in and converts it into joy.”
The cross represents a God who is sacrificially forgiving in reconciling the world.
Last week this blog reflected on Jesus’ first words from the cross, according to tradition, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the case of the one crucified alongside Jesus asking to be remembered, Jesus goes beyond forgiveness to welcome him into his kingdom. That can happen for each of us in this moment. And how differently we will live, now that we are in paradise.
For those who would like daily readings for this week of Lent, click here and scroll down to the end of “Spiritual Stretching.”
I will be speaking this coming Sunday, Mar. 1, at the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church 11 a.m. service in Dahlonega, GA, followed by a free workshop on the mystic Evelyn Underhill, “Becoming What We Behold.”
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