The day we call Good Friday was once a very bad Friday. By three o’clock, Jesus had suffered greatly and was dead.
The Seven Last Words from the Cross, Jesus’ final sayings recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have been my writing topic these past six weeks. I’ve also been writing about my own seven “lasting words”–not my “last words” (too morbid), nor “everlasting words” (we’ll just leave those to Jesus)–but words that stick with me, sayings that rattle around in my head, or things I say to others. They are:
and Thank you.
I arranged my “lasting words” in an order that sort of dovetailed with Jesus’ Last Words, which worked out pretty well until now. My final saying is “Thank you,” while Jesus is giving up his life. My last word is a plastic shopping bag. Jesus, meanwhile, is dead at a young age under dark skies.
Still, I couldn’t omit thank you from my lasting words. I’m big on saying thank you, as my daughter can attest. I like to say thanks as a matter of courtesy and a spiritual practice—showing gratitude to people and to the Giver of all good things. But now I’m wondering how thanks fit with Jesus’ last breath.
The seventh Last Word comes from Luke, who gives us a time-lapse perspective of Jesus’ final three hours:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-47)
Luke really packs a lot into these sentences—the solar-eclipse effect, the shocking incident in the temple, Jesus shouting out his last lungful. The thing that grabs my attention here is the darkness, how eerie it must have felt. The description of darkness covering the land takes me back to the opening poem of the Bible, when “darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). Though I try to imagine the darkness of that moment, the world suddenly bereft of Jesus, I can’t fathom it.
In the very next sentence, Luke turns his gaze away from Jesus: “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’” He’s talking about Jesus in the past tense, of course, but there is a light bulb over his head: Aha! In the darkness, the centurion suddenly realizes who Jesus really was. Even hardened Roman soldiers–the most endarkened–may be enlightened.
In the creation poem, darkness covers the face of the deep—until God speaks. “Let there be light,” God said. And there was light. In Luke’s telling and in the Genesis creation poem, darkness comes before light.
Before darkness comes the simple blessing of thanks. Jesus spoke seven times from the cross, yet he prefaced the whole ordeal with thanks. Sitting down to the Passover meal, Jesus picked up a glass of wine and thanked God for it. He took a piece of bread and thanked God for it. After these things, the mood darkened. It would become very dark indeed before the light reemerged.
I’m so grateful for the very bad Friday that precedes our very good Sunday–that makes our joy possible.
Darkness precedes light.
Thank you comes before Into thy hands I commit my spirit.
And thanks precedes all.