THE FIRST WORD FROM THE CROSS

SVouet Having sung and directed The Seven Last Words, I have long found deeply moving the contemplation of all aspects of what takes place in this centerpiece of human history, when Jesus, the perfection of humanity, sheds His blood on a rugged cross to take away the sins of the world. The God – Man Who loves enough to set aside His own crown of glory to come into the world as a helpless babe in the first place lives out His last moments of full humanity in complete faithfulness atoning for our sin and making possible what we see so dramatically demonstrated in the curtain torn in two in the temple. The way is made open! How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be!!

While I recognize that the order of the seven last words are likely shaped by the traditions of liturgical practice, it is no less true that they come to us having been practiced in this way. It is beyond humbling to think that Jesus’ first utterance from this instrument of torture is “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus knew His mission and shows such compassion in the face of His own torment. God so loved the world. Overwhelming!

Prayer on the First Word from the Cross

Almighty God, to whom your crucified Son prayed for the forgiveness of those who did not know what they were doing, grant that we, too, may be included in that prayer. Whether we sin out of ignorance or intention, be merciful to us and grant us your acceptance and peace: in the name of Jesus Christ, our suffering Savior. Amen.[1]

So many hymns flood my mind and spirit on this Good Friday, and with them a spirit of personal worship that causes me to feel I should bow my face into the floor and pour out my heart in all humility, and yet this same realization of Jesus’ finished work on that cross floods my heart with joy, and my mind with memories of blessed moments of praise, singing the story and joy of salvation with brothers and sisters in so many settings from the days of my childhood in churches where my dad pastored all the way up to services just this past Sunday joining with fellow church members singing the Fred Mallory arrangement of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This juxtaposition of emotional extremes also brings to mind the new hymn I have been singing throughout this Lenten season. It is a wonderful expression by our friends Keith & Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick, which proclaims,

 

Two wonders here that I confess, my worth and my unworthiness

My value fixed – my ransom paid At the cross.[2]

 

From pages that are much older, though similar in spirit, I find these words of John Newton and William Cowper that spring from their reflections on the First Word from the cross,

            “Father, forgive (the Savior said)

            They know not what they do:”

            His heart was moved when thus he prayed

            For me, my friends, and you.

 

            He saw that as the Jews abused

            And crucified His flesh

            So he, by us, would be refused

            And crucified afresh.

 

            Through love of sin, we long were prone

            To act as Satan bid;

            But now, with grief and shame we own,

            We knew not what we did.

 

            We know not the defect of sin,

            Nor whom we thus defied

            Nor where our guilty souls had been,

            If Jesus had not died.

 

            We knew not what a law we broke,

            How holy, just and pure!

            Nor what a God we dust provoke,

            But thought ourselves secure.

 

            But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,

            And shed his precious blood

            To satisfy the holy law

            And make our peace with God.

 

            My sin, dear Savior, made thee bleed,

            Yet didst thou pray for me!

            I know not what I did, indeed,

            When ignorant of thee.[3]

[1] Norman D Palsma “A Combined Tenebrae and Seven Last Words Service” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship, pg. 356.

[2] My Worth Is Not in What I Own, www.gettymusic.com

[3] Father, Forgive Them from Olney Hymns, Book I.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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