Famous Last Words, I: Father, Forgive

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February 14, 2018

Famous Last Words, I: Father, Forgive

Passage: Luke 23:32–38

Click here to listen to this sermon.


Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’  —Luke 23:34


There’s something magical about the number seven. There are seven days of the week, the seven seas the seven continents, and the seven dwarves.  The New Testament tells us that with his dying breath, Jesus spoke seven last words from the cross.  They are some of the most beloved and sacred words in all of Scripture, so this Lent, Jo and Katie and I wanted to think about them with you in a series called Famous Last Words.

The Church has assigned the seven last words to an order which has not changed in 1,700 years.

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing,” is always the first.

I spent all day writing a reflection about this first word from the cross. I actually kind of even liked it.

But it addressed a very different reality from what I’m experiencing right now.  I just don’t think it would be very helpful after what happened in Florida this afternoon.  That sermon was about the sins of our omission and ignorance and indifference, not about sins of intentional malice.

I’ll preach the original sermon some other day.

So, forgive me if these thoughts are less than cogent and coherent.  I changed my mind at 5 p.m.

Just 2 brief reflections.

First of all, events like what happened today in Florida are the reason Luke tells us that one of the last words on Jesus’ dying lips and the last thoughts in his pierced head was an expression of mercy toward the relentless, comprehensive brokenness of human nature.

Whom was Jesus asking his Father to forgive from that cross on Golgotha?
The cowardice of his fleeing friends?
The self-righteousness of Caiaphas?
The expediency of Pilate?
The betrayal of Judas?
The denial of Peter?
The indifference of the Roman soldiers?
The ridicule of the crowd gathered for the spectacle?
The avarice and rage of Shomari Legghette?
The malice of Nicholas Cruz?
The pedestrian missteps of you and me?

What happened in Florida this afternoon is why he came to Golgotha in the first place to die for our recklessness and violence.  The prophet Isaiah tells us that “he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.”  Indeed.

Secondly, I want us to notice that Ash Wednesday, the gateway to the Lenten season, is about two things: it’s about human brokenness, and it’s about human mortality, two sad realities we saw on vivid display this afternoon.  They were just children.

Photos of those kids fleeing that Florida school and reuniting with their parents showed some of them with a smudge of ash on their forehead.

This afternoon at a news conference announcing that charges are being brought against Shomari Legghette, Commander Paul Bauer’s murderer, another Chicago Police Commander, Brendan Deenihan, had a very visible ashen cross smudged into his forehead.

Commander Deenihan has red hair.  Brendan Deenihan is an Irish name.  I am guessing that Commander Deenihan is very, very Catholic.  It was very poignant.

After the last mass shooting in America—I can’t even remember which one, there’s been so many, but maybe after Las Vegas—after the last mass shooting in America, the satirical journal The Onion ran a headline.  Above a photo of crowds fleeing a shooter in panic, there was this headline: “‘No Way to Prevent this from happening,’ says the only nation in the world where it happens regularly.”

Whenever I’m thinking about sin and repentance, I listen to Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs’ song “I’m Coming Home.”  It became my prayer from a broken heart on Ash Wednesday.  Do you know it?

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Tell the World I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away
all the pain of yesterday.
I know my kingdom awaits
and they’ve forgiven my mistakes.
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home.

 Father, forgive us, because we don’t know what we’re doing.  Welcome home anyway, at the right time, we plead.

Ash Wednesday Prayers of the People