Christ the King: Luke 23:33-43
It has been said that a person's last words summarize their priorities, personality, and perspective on life. Jesus' last words from the cross show us who he is, the identity of the savior for whom we're preparing.
(Note: If you want examples of famous people's last words, check the blog post I wrote on this topic a few months ago. I found some preachable insights in my research on famous people's last words.) Hence, John Wesley's "Best of all, Christ is with us." And Oscar Wilde's "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do." I've often thought it would be a good idea to practice something profound so I'm ready when the time comes.
In one community in which I served a church for seven years, every Good Friday from noon to 3 o'clock, we had a community service in which each of the pastors preached a meditation on one of the seven words of Christ from the cross. The Episcopal priest worked up a schedule and made sure nobody had to do the same word every year. In the course of my seven years in the community I got to preach on each one.
The first year I preached on the fourth word: "My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) In the first part of the sermon I focused on Jesus' genuine humanity and the fact that he took on every aspect of our human suffering, including the emotional experience of distance from God. In the second part of the sermon I dealt with the thought that people who don't have faith in God don't berate God for not showing up. They don't expect God to be anything but aloof. I mentioned that, in quoting Psalm 22:1 Jesus may have been implying the whole psalm, which ends on a note of praise for God's deliverance.
The second year I preached on the third word: "Woman, behold your son. This is your mother" (John 19:26-27). The choir sang the anthem "Take my mother home," and I had trouble making it through my message.
The third year I preached on the sixth word: "It is finished" (John 19:30).
The fourth year I preached on the fifth word, which is also from John's gospel: "I thirst" (John 19:28).
Somehow it worked out that in the fifth, sixth, and seventh years, I preached on Jesus' words from the cross in Luke. These three sentences tell us about Jesus' priorities and perspective, his identity. They give us a heads-up so we can recognize him when he arrives.
- "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
- "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
- "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).
Who is the one for whose arrival we prepare? He is One who forgives. He is One who welcomes all, especially sinners, into the arms of God. He is one who, having come from God, entrusts himself to God in a relationship that lasts forever.
This One is both on the way and already here, closer than hands and feet. Surely he is One who can strengthen our faith in the Resurrection when it wavers. Surely he is One who forgives us for all the obstacles of pride and preoccupation we have placed in his path. Surely he is One into whose hands we can commend our whole selves, our whole lives, both now and forever.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.