The meaning of life and death is pondered in groups and for individual departed. People often try to give the departed a sense of dignity and give comfort to the survivors. A seemingly impossible task in finding a meaning for it all if “this is all there is”.
Sometimes someone gets it right when there is an epitaph on a tombstone. It could be something funny to bring a laugh to loved ones that come visiting at the cemetery or something sentimental. But really a lot have no message fearing a failure to give justice to what someone’s memory.
However, there is always room for something more than a few words in the last spoken words by the deceased or what they write in their will. If their heart senses their values and choices were integrated with consistency then the sense could be literally called integrity instead of despair like the theory of Erickson about the end of life stage. And even still, often, the soon to be dead would rather keep living.
But the counter-intuitive approach from traditional Christianity is in the cross of Christ and what Jesus said. In evangelizing in his ministry Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me”. This is not appealing to comforts. The inflexibly comfortable would not endeavor to be a disciple of Jesus any more than any other contradiction of terms. The voice that wants to play it safe would say no.
But the epitome of the gospel of the cross may be summed up precisely in what Jesus said on the cross. There are several reasons for this. It is half the gospel literally in action and we see up to two other convicts there and many others who are both witnesses and a captive audience. We see a thief who first mocked Jesus having a turn of conscience and faith and spoke up for him to the other thief. We see a soldier, there for duty, say, “surely this was the Son of God”. And then there were his loved ones including his mother and “the disciple Jesus loved”. Last, there were scoffers of the religious elite who refused his love. From the cross, his actions and words from the cross moved some even though the eyes of the flesh would be seeing only a Roman execution.
So what will be addressed below are the 7 sayings of Jesus. One final will and testament expressed in words and blood. They are not evangelistic spells of a sort that Christians are to use and overwhelm the unbelievers into a trance of conversion. But we can see glimpses on what Jesus addresses of normative experiences for a full, Christian life for those who do not have it.
To understand what his last words from the cross means to Christianity is see them like a zip drive. The convert receives it but the disciple unzips it over a lifetime. Christ on the cross illuminated truths to be taught and caught in him and in unity with his Church.
Paul connected to this in the grace of conversion and ongoing growth in holiness. He stated when Peter erred in his prudential judgment of living out the meaning of grace in the gospel saying, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20). Paul connects himself in Christ’s cross, denies his life as being the center so Christ’s life is central and applies it continually in faith. This is a testimony for Paul but signals to us what that flashpoint of conversion is and calls us to in simplicity in the heart first. Paul later wrote on the simplicity of the gospel. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).
A few letters later Paul elaborated on where this mysterious connection to the cross is for the believer.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
Paul knew that we have all accessed the cross of Christ in baptism. This is why several times in Acts Christians are referred to as followers of the Way. The word for way was hodos and in the Greek Old Testament the word, exhodo,is the “way out” in the sense of Moses guiding Israel through the water of deliverance which Paul calls a baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). The ultimate way out springs from the work and meaning of Jesus in the cross.
So really this is the personal testimony that all Christians can draw hope from and integrate in sharing the message of Jesus. However, it is not to be comprehended like a simple math equation. It is made practical in the school of experience and chief in that experience is suffering. We can point to the mystery of Christ on the cross as hope and light especially when we join him in suffering.
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh(2 Corinthians 4:6-11).
Last, I would like to see how we can see the person we share Jesus with in the fullest kind of sight. People we meet may be cynics like those who jeered at Jesus while he was suffering on the cross. For the Christian this unzipping the zip drive includes knowing God’s mercy to us and those who may even persecute us. We must join our voice together for the world as intercessors calling for God’s mercy over the earth. And this intercession of sorts is not only our words but also our actions. For this, Paul wrote, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Filled with the unity of knowing Jesus, we can only then keep the resolve to change the story of our faith communities seeing the bond of peace in the cross. Seeing Christ in his glorious sacrifice, not just a Roman execution, we see its end working out to make all people new who convert and then be disciples.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view. We know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
With that in mind, let us sit at the Master’s feet while he hangs from the cross, heaving and pulling himself up for breath to say the words that free us in this sacrifice of love. Sacrifice without love is unendurable. Love without sacrifice is meaningless. But Christ’s wisdom in the cross is the power of God.