Famous Last Words

Last words can be revelatory. Especially when a person knows that their end is near, their final utterance can have gravity and poignance. A person’s last statement can afford a glimpse into their heart.

We see a soul broken by betrayal in Julius Caesar’s purported last words, “You too, my child?” Those words were spoken, according to Roman historian Suetonius, as Caesar recognized his adoptive son Brutus among his murderers. “Et tu, Brute?” is how Shakespeare famously rendered that final statement (“Even you, Brutus?”). Think of the love revealed in T.S. Elliot’s last utterance: “Valerie.” That was the name of his wife.  Or consider Bessie Smith, who died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.” In Smith’s last words, we see how God was on her mind.

For 2000 years, Christians have pondered the last words of Jesus spoken on the cross. We find his last sayings revelatory not simply because they are scripture. We find in them a window into the heart and mind of God. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  In that, the first of the seven last sayings of our Lord, we see not only a forgiving heart, but a deep love for one’s enemies. In the saying “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” we behold a savior still proclaiming good news of salvation to the bitter end. Jesus’s love for the family of disciples is on stark display in his words to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.” We see the depths of his lonely and injured heart, together with its profound love for God, in his final statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His other final utterances reveal Jesus’s yearning for life (“I thirst”), for fulfilling God’s purposes (“It is finished”), and for self-offering on sinner’s behalf (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”). His seven final words reveal to us the depths of his heart, full as it is of love for God and for those he came to save.

Over the season of Lent at Knox, we will be pondering the final words of Jesus as a congregation. Each Sunday we will be looking at a different saying in worship. We will be reading the book Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus by James Martin, and discussing it in small groups. In studying our Lord’s famous last words, I hope we get a deeper sense as a congregation of our Lord’s heart, and the love it holds for us and our world.

Wishing you a blessed and meaningful Lent,

Pastor Matt



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