During my four years living and working in Mexico, I became fascinated with many church customs, especially those of The Salvation Army. Easter week was always a highlight of the year. It usually included an evangelistic campaign, when we visited people in the neighbourhood, held special events every night and took to the streets for open-air meetings (they had to be short, as the authorities frowned on that sort of thing). On Good Friday, there was a service of the “seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.”

I was intrigued—I’d never heard of such a gathering before. In Canada, we used to have “three hours at the cross” on Good Friday, but the idea of remembering the seven sayings was new to me. Seven speakers were invited to share, one for each of the phrases that Jesus spoke from the cross. (Seven sermons in one meeting—and I used to think three hours at the cross was long!)

It was a beautiful way of meditating on Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For those unfamiliar with the seven sayings, they are:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How selfless of Jesus to pray for the very people who were torturing him and putting him to death—and to pray that they might be forgiven.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). One of the criminals being crucified beside Jesus taunted him, but the other was truly sorry for his life of sin, recognizing that, unlike Jesus, he was receiving exactly what he deserved. Yet here he was, next to the sinless Lamb of God, who was suffering the same death. He reached out to Jesus, asking not to be spared from suffering, but for Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus said, “Today you will be with me.”

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’ ” (John 19:26-27). I can’t imagine the anguish Mary must have felt on that horrible day. Did she ever think, when she gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid him in a crude feeding trough, that it would end like this? All through his life, she must have wondered why the elderly man in the temple had said to her, “A sword will pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35). And now it was finally being fulfilled before her eyes. Yet Jesus, full of love for the woman who had given birth to him and journeyed through life with him, was concerned more for her welfare than his own.

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46). This is a quote from Psalm 22, where the Psalmist expresses the feeling of being entirely abandoned by God. On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world. “For indeed Christ died for sins once for all, the Just and Righteous for the unjust and unrighteous [the Innocent for the guilty] so that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 AMP).

“I am thirsty” (John 19:28). Jesus had prayed that, if possible, this cup could be taken from him—the cup that completed his mission on earth.

“It is finished” (John 19:30). He had indeed accomplished all he came to do, atoning for sin so that we now have access to the Father through his death on the cross.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus was going home at last, no longer to suffer the pain of our sin, no longer to be taunted, humiliated or tortured.

He was taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb, but he did not remain there. Easter Sunday came, and Jesus rose again.

Thinking back to my years in Mexico, I still have wonderful memories of people coming to church early on Easter morning, all dressed in white. Although the long service on Good Friday reminded us of the tremendous price Jesus paid to redeem us from sin, on Easter Sunday, we rejoiced in the knowledge that because he lives, we live.

Commissioner Susan McMillan is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. Follow her at facebook.com/susanmcmillantc and twitter.com/salvationarmytc.

Feature photo: © nito/stock.Adobe.com

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