Yesterday I offered my own words upon which the reader might meditate in anticipation of the observance of the death of our Lord. Today I offer to you the words of Luther. All citations are from Martin Luther’s Easter Book (Augsburg 1962) except the seventh word which is from a 1519 Good Friday Sermon.
THE FIRST WORD
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”
Who can express such love? His heart was so full of the fire of love that no one can comprehend. In pain and shame he acted as though he felt them not and was thinking only of our sin and God’s wrath. He burned and writhed beneath the weight, the spear, the blood, the shame, and wounds, and yet he said. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Here there is a loveliness that only the eyes of the spirit can discern. He was esteemed a robber, a rascal, a reprobate above all reprobates, yet in the heart he was fairer than the sun.
THE SECOND WORD
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
In the case of the thief we have an example of Christ’s forgiveness. The thief reproved his fellow, saying, “Do you not fear god, you who are in the same condemnation?” These were simple words, but the heart of the thief was greater than heaven and earth. He did not look upon the weakness of Christ, Instead, he saw what cannot be seen, that Christ was a king. Be not ashamed to become a Christian after the manner of this thief, for he was the first saint in the New Testament through the Passion of Christ. For him, Christ prayed upon the cross. We might all be Christians like him. God grant that we may!
THE THIRD WORD
“Woman, behold your son! Son, behold your mother.”
What agony Mary endured as she watched his suffering none can comprehend. In all history there is no other account of a woman who followed her son when he must suffer so frightfully. She saw him crowned with thorns, spat upon, and hanged. Truly the sword of Simeon must have gone through her heart. A mother can scarcely stand it if her child falls from a bench or bleeds from the ear. Where shall we find a mother who could see such things as Mary? She could not speak but must watch all the tortures and hear all the reviling as they gave him vinegar to drink and diced for his clothing. To be sure, the Holy Spirit gave her comfort, but other mothers would have fainted. And for Christ; to see his mother suffering was one of the greatest parts of his pain, that nothing should be lacking in his suffering.
THE FOURTH WORD
“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
We should not center our attention, however, upon what Christ suffered but rather upon why he suffered, and the answer is “for my sake.” I am the one who by my sins have deserved that God be my enemy and mock me, even when I cry that the sun should no more shine, the earth no more bear me, and the rocks be rent. When sins are made plain and the conscience is touched, then a man finds out all that Christ suffered here. Then he, too, will say, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Therefore, everything that Christ suffered is to be referred to our souls, and the more we exalt the Passion the more clearly do we see our own condemnation. Yet, “I will not be afraid for the terror by night and though the sun should not shine and I be in the shadow of death. I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Though the earth cry out against me, I will not fear, for I know that Christ has conquered”
THE FIFTH WORD
The three hours of darkness were frightful. To Christ it seemed that on his account God had blotted out the sun. That is why Christ cried out. His accusers should have been shaken by his death cry, but they were only more hardened and said: “The living God is his enemy. That is why he turns to the dead Elijah.” Such reproaches hurt Christ more than all the pain. He felt it all as a man.
“And one man ran and took a sponge and filled it with vinegar,
And put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. (Matthew 27:48)
What mockery! They should have comforted him. The devil emptied all his wrath upon this man. Read all the recitals of dying, and you will not find anything more terrible that this, that one who was forsaken but God and all creatures should be comforted with vinegar.
THE SIXTH WORD
“It is finished.”
Let us now meditate a moment on the Passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Christ into an amulet against suffering. Some weep and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only-begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.
THE SEVENTH WORD
“Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit.”
Then cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53.6 says: “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2.24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” of the cross; and St Paul in 2 Cor 5:21: “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4:25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.