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REFLECTIONS ON THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Lenten season is one of the significant annual affairs in the Christian calendar. Devout members of the Catholic church mark this event through 40 days of penance and prayers, leading up to the observance of Holy Week.

Filipinos who embrace Christianity would normally take part in various church-led activities during this period, beginning with the blessing of “palaspas” on Palm Sunday, all the way to the celebration of “salubong” on Easter Sunday. 

But the COVID-19 outbreak clearly affected the way we commemorate Holy Week since last year. Almost gone are the days when people would visit seven different churches to pray and reflect on their spiritual lives from Maundy Thursday to Black Saturday. 

Nevertheless, church leaders are encouraging us to still practice our faith even if we cannot gather closely in a place of worship like we used to. We can always pray on our own, read the Bible, and listen to the gospels via multimedia broadcast, especially on Good Friday. 

Of all the days in the Holy Week, Good Friday has been the most quiet yet strident for the Filipino Christians. Melancholic meditations juxtaposed with acts of self-flagellations happen during this day as we remember the painful final hours of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

Among the highlights of every Good Friday tradition is the ceremonial reading of the “Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ” based on the accounts of Saints John, Luke, Mark and Matthew under the New Testament.

Personal testimonies on the power of these words are shared thereafter as many practicing Catholics ponder on these final phrases from the Son of God to look for some wisdom and guidance in navigating their own trials and tribulations, too.

Needless to say, the present contagion somehow made a lot of us feel like Jesus Christ in many respects. Uncontrollable forces made us carry our own crosses as we watch our incalculable losses pile up in this war against coronavirus. 

So, in the spirit of Good Friday, we thought it might make sense if we try to recontextualize the parting words of Jesus Christ and turn them into some kind of motivational quotes to keep ourselves from falling into the deepest depths of despair amid the lingering pandemic. 

FIRST WORD: FORGIVENESS

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” — Luke 23:34

A man folds his hands in prayer while holding a rosary. Seeking forgiveness from the Lord for the sins we have committed has been a common theme in most Catholic prayers. (Image Source: James Chan from Pixabay)

In Biblical context, Jesus was asking for the forgiveness of God on behalf of the Roman soldiers and everyone involved in His crucifixion despite all the pain, shame, and agony they knowingly inflicted upon Him. 

Are you willing to be that kind of man who would easily forgive those responsible for your own execution? A negative response is not surprising for anyone. In a world full of thoughtless cruelty, forgiveness is one of the most difficult virtues to practice. 

But having the courage to forgive those who caused us a great deal of suffering is widely considered as the first and crucial step towards saving ourselves from eternal damnation. It is akin to the philosophy long held by the Stoics to focus only on the things we can control.

Life can get incredibly frustrating as we grow older, but if we keep holding grudges, we may end up trapped in a miserable maze. The message of forgiveness does not only invite us to increase our level of tolerance but also stretch our patience amid endless adversities.

SECOND WORD: SALVATION

“Assuredly I say to you, today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” — Luke 23:43

A digital artist’s contemporary rendering of the ‘Three Crosses,’ depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with the two thieves who were also nailed on the cross beside Him at Mount Calvary. (Image Source: Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay)

Jesus said these words to a repentant criminal who was crucified beside Him. It’s all about the promise of salvation that awaits us when we learn to recognize our own mistakes, be humble enough to ask for forgiveness, and make amends. 

No matter who we are, where we are from and what we do, one thing is common: we are all products of sins who cannot be immune from turning to a life of sin. This truth is crystal clear and anyone who dares to tell you otherwise is selling you a dangerous myth. 

Some people interpret Bible verses literally that they often fail to grasp the numerous metaphors used by its many authors. The paradise here may not be a beautiful place but a state of mind where you can be at peace with yourself after clearing your conscience. 

We also need not rely on the promise of salvation all the time to pave the way for our own redemption. We can always choose to be our own saviors by constantly resisting the urge to do unnecessary evil things at the expense of others just to get what we want.

THIRD WORD: RELATIONSHIP

“Woman, behold your son; (and to the disciple) Behold your mother.” — John 19:26-27

The Pieta is one of the famous sculptures made by Renaissance artist Michelangelo during the late 15th century. It illustrates the lifeless body of Jesus Christ on the arms of His mother, the Virgin Mary after his crucifixion. (Image Source: Tim Stringer from Pixabay)

Human relationships must never be limited by filial connections. This is our key takeaway from this message when Jesus Christ entrusted His mother, the Virgin Mary, to the anonymous disciple who kept her company as she grieved for her dying son in Calvary. 

In the COVID-19 era, despite all the bad things that happened and continue to unfold, it’s amazing to know that many good relationships are still being formed. Maintaining good relations with other people is an essential ingredient for living a good life. 

Some of us may have lost loved ones due to coronavirus or other reasons whom we can never replace. There is no shame in holding onto grief over the death of the people we love and deeply care about but we must not let it consume us. 

Jesus was telling his disciples and everyone in His family who would deeply mourn His death to find solace in each other. People will always come and go in our lives. In times of trouble, we must consider ourselves blessed to still find people who are willing to stay by our side. 

FOURTH WORD: ABANDONMENT

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? — Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

Crucifixion is widely considered as one of the worst capital punishments in the history of mankind. Jesus Christ suffered this gruesome death in the hands of the Roman soldiers, according to the Scriptures. (Image Source: Helmut H. Kroiss from Pixabay)

Jesus Christ was believed to be in His 30s when He died, which is young by today’s standards. He was still in His prime, so to speak. He could have had a whole life ahead of Him yet He reluctantly opted to make the ultimate sacrifice and implement God’s plan. 

Not all of us have either had the privilege or misfortune of confronting our own mortality, but we might have experienced moments of vulnerability at some point. When Jesus said these words, He had reached the limits of His humanity that it made Him cry out to His Father. 

If we were in His position, we would probably ask the same question, too. Why did God put us in this world only to make us suffer? How come good people often die young while the evil ones get to live long and even prosper? Sometimes these issues are best left unanswered. 

God works in mysterious ways. As cliché as it sounds, that has always been the case. But when Jesus acknowledged His own pain and cried out in fear to His Father like that, He showed us there was nothing to be afraid of when we embrace our own vulnerabilities. 

FIFTH WORD: DISTRESS

“I thirst.” — John 19:28

An image highlighting the fifth of the seven last words of Jesus Christ based on the Gospel of St. John. (Image Source: Anthony Awtrey from Pixabay)

With the simple words “I thirst,” Jesus expressed the full extent of his suffering. After enduring hours of excruciating torture that made Him bleed from head to toes, He asked for water perhaps to help Him muster the final ounce of strength in His dying moments. 

Take it literally or figuratively, we can all agree that water is an essential element of life. Many Christian scholars find the fifth word so fitting considering that most of us yearn for the simplest of things in times of great distress.

We are all thirsty for something: some thirst for freedom, others thirst for hope. In the COVID-19 era, we are thirsty for competent leadership to get us out of the unrelenting crisis. Jesus Christ thirst for the love, trust and deliverance of mankind.

From the life and death of Jesus Christ, as told by the four evangelists in the Bible, we can glean that walking the straight and narrow path can leave us dry. Life is always going to be filled with sorrows and it can get a little too tiring at times. 

SIXTH WORD: TRIUMPH

“It is finished.” — John 19:3

A photographic rendering of the crown of thorns, which the Jews made Jesus Christ wear when He was crucified. It is considered as one of the staple symbols associated with Christian imagery. (Image Source: James Chan from Pixabay)

The penultimate word spoken by Jesus before breathing His last is not a dank submission to the pangs of death, but a quiet claim of victory against suffering. In this moment, the Son of God felt relief over fulfilling His mission in this world.

He is at peace with how His life turned out despite its tragic end. If we can all live our lives like that, perhaps we would not be too preoccupied to go after the things that give us false temporary pleasures and bitter happiness. 

A year into the pandemic and sadly we find no reason to feel triumphant about. Our daily battles against our enemies both visible and invisible are hardly won. Our maximum collective efforts yielded minimal results and we have no idea where this failure can be attributed to. 

But instead of beating ourselves up, we can try and shift our perspectives. Waking up each day to face another round of uncertainty may already be considered a win no matter how small it seems. Learn to find fulfillment in our ordinary lives: a work in progress all the time. 

SEVENTH WORD: REUNION

“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” — Luke 23:46

A digital artist illustrates the concept of spiritual resurrection that happens when our physical bodies die, symbolizing the essence of Jesus Christ’s final word before His death. (Image Source: AD Images from Pixabay)

With His prophecy finally coming into fruition, Jesus Christ peacefully offered His soul as He let go of His life. Accepting the inevitability of death made Him put His complete trust in the hands of God, knowing that His passing is not going to be the end of Him. 

It takes a lot of faith and courage to leave everything up to the Lord by the time we face the final curtain. We need to constantly remind ourselves of that faith when processing the sharp vicissitudes of life. 

Remember that our stories do not end by the time we close our eyes and disappear from the face of the Earth. And so, as we pray for our misfortunes to change, we must keep our mind open and continue to be kind.

Know that we can always commit not only our spirit, but also our doubts, worries and fears to the One who is in charge of everything. No matter how bleak the future seems, we need to stay strong and believe we will recover from all the chaos and confusion of our current situation. 

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