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Disheveled Theologian: The seven last words of Christ -- forgiveness

It’s not often that I plan ahead for my column. I do like to have a couple ideas in mind, things to mull over as I go about my business, but it doesn’t always happen. When it comes to Advent and Lent, however, I always make a definite plan. Or at least I try to. This year when I began thinking about what my plan should be, I had no clue. Absolutely none. So I started to pray. (Always a good option.) And before long, God brought to mind the seven last words of Christ.

Seven words … seven weeks of Lent. Perfect! Thanks, God! These “words” are actually seven sentences, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross. Each sentence can be distilled down to one key word.

Luke 23:34 gives us the first “last word” of Christ: Forgiveness. Jesus had gone through a terrible few days. He was betrayed by a disciple. His best friends fell asleep when he needed them most. He was arrested. Put on trial. Passed from judge to judge, and finally sentenced to death. And a horrible death it promised to be. Roman crucifixion. Where the prisoner was nailed through the wrists and ankles to a wooden cross and left to slowly suffocate to death.

Added to all this, he knew he was innocent of the blasphemy they accused him of. He told them he was The Christ — the promised Messiah — the savior of the world and Son of God. The people chose not to believe his claims, said that he was a liar and a horrible person for pretending to be God.

These were his specially chosen people. His blood and kin. But they rejected him. Despised him. Held him in low esteem (Isaiah 53). They gave him a kingly robe and a crown made out of thorns, the final mockery to his Godly claim. And then up on the cross he went.

He was committed to seeing this through. He could have stopped it from happening. Could have jumped down from the cross. But he deliberately and willingly set aside his own desires, having wrestled with his thoughts on the subject the night before to the point of sweating blood. He was ready for this. Unswerving in his duty to die for the forgiveness of our sins. The forgiveness not only of the people who had sent him to the cross, but the forgiveness of each one of us. Even the forgiveness of those who were killing him.

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgive the soldiers, gambling for his robe, nailing him to the “tree,” scorning his deity. Forgive Herod and Pilate, and the people, who demanded that Barabbas, a convicted murderer and rabble-rouser, be released and Jesus take his place.

“Forgive them …” Forgive us.

“… for they know not what they do.”

They didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing. That they were killing the Son of God. But the truth is, it had to happen. What they did opened the way for us all to be pardoned.

Jesus’ death on the cross was no mistake. It wasn’t something forced upon a helpless man by the Roman government. It was on purpose. It was part of God’s plan, put into motion the day Adam and Eve ate that piece of fruit in the Garden of Eden.

All of time … centered on that one moment.

A gift to humankind: forgiveness.

So the questions is: what will you do with that gift? Will you, in turn, forgive? Will you accept that you are forgiven?

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is