The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

Such are these seven words solemnly spoken at the moment of asphyxiation—not like a sermon from the pulpit but emanating from his pierced flesh. And tradition—inspired by the association to this perfect number seven—interprets each one of these words as a gift of the Holy Spirit, or a Beatitude—or why not as well as a day of Creation, or a sacrament? And yet, we do not find the same number of words in any single Gospel. According to Matthew and Mark, there was only one word, transcribed in Aramaic, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” followed by nothing but a great cry. According to Luke, there were three: Forgive them...; Today you will be with me in paradise; and Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. According to John as well, there were three, but completely different ones: Behold your mother...; I thirst; and It is finished. And according to you? These seven last words are the product of a collection and a composition born of the piety of the faithful. They manifest not the constraint, but the inventiveness of faith. They teach us how to read between the lines, to see that the apparent divergences between the four Gospels function as a kind of window through which we can all hear the call destined for each one of us and fulfill our lives as a continuation of the Gospel. To read it properly means to close the book, to feel its misery in the light of mercifulness, and to be merciful in turn: to look the poor in the face, to love our neighbor, meaning, that is, that relative, that colleague, that bum, just those people I was hoping to escape when I opened these pages full of beautiful images and lovely music. A while ago, Romain Lizé asked me to write a short work on these seven last words of Christ on the cross. I shrank from the task. I didn't feel up to it, especially as there was already the wonderful text by Charles Journet. 8