… in looking at the cross of Christ we are looking at considerably more even than excruciating (no pun intended) human pain. Christians believe that when we look at Jesus on the cross and meditate on that meaning, we are privileged to see as much of God as we ever hope to see. the cross is not simply the truth about the human condition; it’s the truth about God. Of all the things that might be said about us and God, the cross is the most crucial (no pun intended). The cross is not simply a ghastly sight of a naked man dying in agony, but also a full frontal disclosure of what God is up to in the world, a dramatic unveiling of who God really is, down deep. The cross is the crux of the matter between us and God (no pun intended). We really ought to call this Friday, holy Friday as the church has historically named this day, rather than good Friday for the goodness in this Friday requires considerable nuance to say just why Christians call the crucifixion of Jesus quote good.”

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, p.89

the seventh word

“Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” (Luke 23:46 CEB)

One way you can tell a true God from a homemade idol is that idols tend to promise us continuity, immortality, and security, being mirrors of our ideal selves. Israel was forced to leave the security of a well-functioning economy in Egypt and live with the freedom that God pushed her into in the uncertain wilderness. Our lust for “security” causes us to have the largest military budget of any country in the world. We so hope to establish ourselves by ourselves, in certainty and security, through our military hardware, our pension systems, our burglar alarms. Israel learned that the major threat to her security was not the Canaanites but rather the Lord. The prophets had to tell her that all attempts at “security” tend to be efforts to establish ourselves by ourselves, that is, idolatry.

But Israel existed only by God’s act. “It was because the Lord loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Israel had no foundation, no means of existence, no secure reason for being here today or tomorrow, except as an undeserved, unearned, gracious act of God. Israel had to learn to worship her Lord even when circumstances (the exodus, the exile) did not warrant such confidence in God’s creative love. Abraham, the father of the faith of Israel, had to venture out to gain new not wear if he would walk with this God and be open to the promises of this God (Hebrews 11:1). Only God knew where Abraham was being taken. Abraham and Sarah had to let go and let God lead.

Of course the ultimate letting go, the ultimate Exodus and the final exile, the greatest of all insecurity is the annihilation of death. So when Christians speak of cross and resurrection, we are saying something akin to what Israel said when she remembered Exodus. We were nothing; then we were something, because of God. And we very well could be nothing again without God. Our only security is that much evaded insecurity that is called fidelity to a living God or, as Jesus put it here, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, pp.76-77


the sixth word

“It is completed.” (John 19:30 CEB)

Lord, here’s what we need today, right away, or as soon as we can get it: we need world peace, prosperity, security, life without risk, pleasure without pain, happiness without cost, and discipleship with no cross. That’s why we’re here, at church, to get our needs met. Our church tries to be user-friendly and seeker sensitive. That’s why on Sundays we serve espresso with a dash of amaretto before our services, a little caffeine boost until we get to the main point of our worship: prayer requests. So like we were saying, we need a quick recovery from gallbladder surgery, an effortless cataract removal, a happy marriage, obedient and chaste kids, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. If you love us, you’ll meet our needs.

Now then, is there something that we can do for you?

You’re thirsty? Well, if you’re the Messiah, why don’t you fix yourself a divine drink? We’ve got needs of our own, thank you. It’s our job to have need; it’s your job to meet need.

For this and all other needs, spoken and unspoken, felt and unfelt, incipient and obvious, personal and corporate, immediate and long-term, we pray. Amen.

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, p.60

the fifth word

After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 CEB)

This fifth word is curious in light of Jesus’s repeated statements that he was the ultimate thirst quencher. “Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty,” was a claim that he made many times (John 4:14; 6:35). “If you’re thirsty come to me,” he said (John 7:37). The thirst quencher is now thirsty? This “I thirst” must mean more than simply that Jesus was, after all, not only divine but also human. In his saying, “I thirst,” we may be at the very heart of his divinity, that which makes Jesus God, one with the Father, and so very much unlike us. …

Maybe Jesus is talking about our thirst for our hunger. He says “I” thirst. Not you, not me. He said, “I thirst.” God Almighty, the son of the father is Thursday. The mocking soldiers offered him a sponge soaked in vinegar just to score him and his thirst.

But maybe he wasn’t thirsty even for water. Maybe he was thirsty for his righteousness’ sake. Maybe he was thirsty for us. Is not that a fair summary of much of Scripture – God’s got this thing for us? God is determined – through Creation, the words of the prophets, the teaching of the law, the birth of the Christ – to get close to us. God has this unquenchable thirst to have us. Even us. …

God’s in this fix, on this day, because God’s so thirsty for us.

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, pp.53,56,59

the fourth word

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?'” (Matthew 27:45-46 CEB)

But my church doesn’t do that well in the dark. “I’m at a happy church, unfortunately,” said a woman in my hearing. A “happy church?”

“Yep,” she explained. “Everything is so happy and upbeat. The preacher jumps up on stage at the beginning of the service, just grinning and giggling. Looks like he may be on some kind of drug, he’s so unbearably, insufferably happy. Every other word from him is “awesome!” “Wasn’t that an awesome song?” “Isn’t our praise band just awesome!” All the music is upbeat and giddy. It’s hell to be going through a tough time in your life and be forced to worship at a happy church.”

She reminded me of my last visit to an incurably “happy church.” After the service, as we were all just grinning and swinging our sunny way out into the parking lot, I had to ask the pastor, “Is there no one here today with cancer? No one whose marriage is failing?”

Like I said, my church doesn’t do all that well in the dark.

What words, what terrible, frightening words, this middle, dark word from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is the word that sets all the other words from the cross in context. This is the word that holds together all the rest, the word that uncovers the scandal of the words.… The fourth word could not have been the first word. If it had been, I doubt we would’ve stayed for the other six. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And yet curiously, these searing words are words of hope. In the course of my life – in times of darkness and despair, when it has been my turn to walk the valley, true, a valley not as dark as the one that Jesus walked on Good Friday, but still dark – I may have blurted out some anguished words to God, but nothing I have said is as accusing, as angry, or is anguished as this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

To hear these words upon the lips of Jesus, to have these words here, is a great … comfort. …

Most of my prayers are, “God give me this, God grant me that. God deliver me, preserve me, rescue, save me.” Jesus did not ask the Father for deliverance but for presence. Jesus’ nearly last prayer was, “God, where are you?” …

Truly Christian prayer is, at its best, the honest prayer, “God, preserve me from trying to get you to run the world on my terms. Save me from trying to get my life to work out the way I want. Bend me to pray like Jesus, ‘Not my will, but thine, be done.'”

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, pp.39-40,43-44

the third word

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27 CEB)

In that day, in that part of the world, there were no social attachments as rigid or determinative as that of the family. Family origin determined your whole life, your complete identity, your entire future. So one of the most countercultural, revolutionary acts of Jesus was his sustained attack upon the family.

In a culture like our own, dominated by “family values,” where we have nothing better to command our allegiance to than our own blood relatives, this is one of the good things the church does for many of us. In baptism, we are rescued from our family. Our families, as good as they are, are too narrow, too restricted. So in baptism we are adopted into a family large enough to make our lives more interesting.

“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you,” he said elsewhere (John 13:34). Watch closely. Jesus is forming the first church, commanding us to live as if these foreigners were our relatives. Churches where we are thrown together with a bunch of strangers and are forced to call these people with whom we have no natural affinity, nothing in common, “brother,” “sister.”

So after this moment, never again could the world safe family without Jesus is people thinking church. …

From the cross, in his third word to us, Jesus disrupts the totalitarian influence of the family in order to free us and give us a new, bigger family he detaches us from parents to give us a new parent. We are to call no one “father” but the “Father.” Jesus saves us from that too narrow, constricted, and constrained family into which we were born in order to give us a new, expanded, and more catholic family. …

So Jesus says to his disciple that he is giving him a new “mother,” and to Mary he gives a new “son.” At the foot of the cross, we who thought we were so different because of race, gender, or clan for once stood together, chanting in unison, “crucify him!” Our uniting of nations is not a pretty sight, for our uniting and communing is always our attempt to get rid of God. But from the cross, Jesus stares into this crowded crucify ours and thrusts us together by Jesus is loving solidarity. We, who once cared only for those folks who have the same genetic endowment as us, now are made to care for those with whom we have nothing in common except Jesus.… It’s one of the gracious, demanding by-products of standing at the foot of Jesus’s cross. It’s called “the body of Christ.” …

Look around you just now, at these losers who gather at the foot of the cross, people whom you hardly know, much less have much in common with. Pray to God for the grace to be able to see these strangers as your siblings. Pray to God that they’ll be given the grace to see you as a close relative. All of the inadequacies and problems that you had growing up in your family are being healed. He who had no conventional family, he who sired no children, is busy forming the largest family the world has ever known.

Welcome home.

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, pp.31-32,33,34,36

the second word

“I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 CEB)

Having spoken to his heavenly father, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” Jesus now speaks to a criminal. He bypasses us and turns to the thief. He, who was forever instructing his followers, he who was always in prayer to his Father, now converses with the crook – in the disarmingly present tense. Now he, who got into much trouble with us righteous ones because he dared to eat and drink with sinners, now talks and dies with sinners. As Jesus hung in agony upon the cross, there was no one beside him but a thief. Well, not so much a “thief” as probably a “troublemaker,” “rabble-rouser,” perhaps an “insurrectionist,” maybe more accurately, “terrorist.”

And the criminal said to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The wretched man was surely thinking of tomorrow. For there, today with Jesus on the cross and the howling mob in front of him, in horrible agony from the worst form of punishment ever devised by wicked humanity, mocked before the world, any “kingdom” promised by Jesus must be in some distant future.

Jesus surprised him. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today. What was conceived only as future became present in this promise of Jesus. You might have expected Jesus to say, “Someday, after I’m gone, when God finally get things together and set things right, when this horrible miscarriage of justice has been rectified, you will be with me in my promised kingdom. Wait until tomorrow.”

No, Jesus said, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” What a promise to speak to such person in such horrible hell of crucifixion. Today, paradise. …

… when Jesus speaks of “Paradise,” he is not talking so much of a place where they may go some day, as a relationship but they entered today.

How odd of Jesus to link a grand notion like “paradise” with the horror that is his cross. You may not want to definition of “Paradise,” but here it is: paradise is whenever, wherever you are with Jesus.

William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words of the Cross, pp.19,20