I’ve been caught up this Good Friday by the last words of a dying man. The words the dying Jesus spoke on the cross tell us a great deal about Jesus, of course, about his humanity, his divinity. But it seems to me that we are meant to speak these words as well. Some will come out of us easily enough: the great need, both physical and psychological, of “I thirst,” and the devastation of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (The latter resonates for me in the personal care homes I’ve been in and out of lately on account of my mother; here are so many people whose diminished lives seem a cry of forsakenness.)
Other last words we have to keep on learning, words of care such as Jesus spoke to his mother and a disciple (“Behold your mother…your son”), words of trust (“Into your hands I commit my spirit”), and words of forgiveness (“Father, forgive them…”). Even the word to the thief (“This day you will be with me”) must be seized for its startling mercy. (Richard John Neuhaus develops this particular saying, in his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, under the heading “Judge Not,” on the hope/assurance to hear this said to me — and to all.) And then the word of satisfaction (“It is finished”) that grows out of knowing one’s purpose, of who one is; shouldn’t that be imitated too, even at the end of each day?