Last Breaths

April 8, 2023

I have been privileged to sit at the bedside of many people at the time of their deaths.  

I have listened to their breathing as I held their hands. 

I have stood on the periphery of the families as they surrounded their loved one.  

I have listened to words of leave taking, once stood on holy ground as a small child sang a lullaby while curled up next to her dying grandfather.  

I have heard words of love and blessing exchanged, final memories recalled, comforting words of scripture shared. 

All within the context of the last breaths of the dying.  

Last breaths requiring effort. 

Effort to speak important words.  

Words which will be held close to the hearts of those left behind and reflected upon in the days and years that will follow.

Perhaps that is why Jesus’ last words before His human death are shared so often during Holy Week.

Jesus’ last breathed words are important; worth the effort it took for Him to speak them. 

We hear the account of the crucifixion so often, we sometimes forget the amount of effort poured into those last breaths – and the words spoken.

Those who were crucified most typically died of suffocation: the weight of their bodies collapsing their lungs as they tried to push up to breathe until they had no strength left to breathe, no strength left to speak…

But Jesus managed to muster the strength to offer all of what was left of Himself on this side of the tomb in a final teachings of love and faith to any who would listen to this dying Man.

Words spoken with His last breaths.

Words that summed up His ministry.  

Words so important that they have made their way down through the ages to us today.

What words?  

In English, the words appear as sentences because they are the best we can do to convey what was spoken. So important are the words, that those who gathered them in translation wanted to be extremely clear.

(Now, for those resist to combining scriptures, called ‘harmonizing,’ I get it; I resist harmonizing as well. But I am okay with the consolidation here because, just as people at the bedside of the dying hear different things, so, too, did those who were present at Jesus’ death.)

So, here goes: 

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew don’t record Jesus’ final words other than words expressing forsakenness in great suffering. (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) These are often called the words of dereliction. 

Jesus, though fully God, was also fully human, and felt abandoned by the Divine as He struggled on the cross. 

I believe this particular last breathed word gives us permission to acknowledge our own times of feeling abandoned by God when we struggle.

The darkness of our feelings are valid but they are not reality, because God, though perhaps silent, is still present with us in those dark times when we can’t see the light of a new day – or the possibility of a different future – a future of hope, much like a new birth into a different season. Jesus felt that same way! We have no need to feel ashamed! 

And if we will just hold on – Easter is coming! 

The Gospels of Luke and John include more ‘final words.’

The Gospel of Luke includes words of forgiveness to those who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34). 

Jesus uses His final human breaths to forgive His executioners, His mockers, His religious persecutors! The teaching of forgiveness of enemies was worth Jesus’ final breath.

These words of forgiveness were also offered to the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:39-43)

I say ‘thief’ because Jesus spoke no words to the thief who berated Him.  No breath would be wasted on condemnation of the abusive thief hanging there.

For the other thief, the repentant thief, words of compassionate restoration were offered without skepticism as to the sincerity of the man’s confession.

The Gospel of John offers other words: words of continued community beyond the cross. (John 19:26-27)

Mary would be cared for not left alone on the periphery of society; a society that abandoned women who had no husband or children to care for them.

John also includes final words of human thirst (John 19:28). Final words which might recall the woman at the well (John 4:1-15). True thirst – spiritual thirst – is only quenched once and for all by the nourishing life giving waters found in relationship with the Divine.

And finally, in His last gasps, two more words: words of committal (Luke 23:46) and completion (John 19:30).

Jesus committed both His life and death to God. And we are to make this same commitment to God as well. (Galatians 2:19-20)

Lastly, Jesus’ work on earth – in and of Himself – is complete. Christ’s work is now to be done in us and through us.

With Jesus’ last human breaths, important, life-changing words were offered. Words to be taken to heart, reflected upon and applied to our own lives – to our own last breaths.

Last breaths speaking the truly loving and important words of Christ.

Are we listening? Are we responding?

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “Last Breaths

  1. Amen. 

    Happy Easter dear Catharine. 





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