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April 3, 2012

MAY: Where words are brief

JEFFERSONVILLE — Images of crosses on a hillside are seen often during the days that lead to Easter. Tom May, discipleship minister at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville, reminds us of lessons found only at the foot of the cross.

I had a public speaking professor offer this sage piece of wisdom: “It’s much easier to give a 40-minute speech than a four minute one.” As a sophomore in college, I couldn’t imagine anything being further from the truth. I labored feverishly to make term papers use the correct number of words or speeches last as long as they were supposed to. My how things change. As a writer I drive an editor who has 400 words of space crazy when I turn in 800 words of verbosity. As a teacher and speaker, I can easily ramble for 40 minutes; but if asked to speak only four minutes, I am required to measure every word.

While it’s more difficult to choose the right words, sometimes brevity is better. And in some circumstances, there just aren’t that many words that can be said. Your best friend sits stunned in a chair in the corner of the funeral home after the unexpected passing of his mother. Your spouse announces he is no longer in love with you and wants a divorce. Your youngest daughter and her husband surprise you with the news that they are expecting your first grandchild. Sometimes words just need to be few and far between.

As we stand at the foot of the cross today, I ask you to listen. During the hours that Jesus spent suffering on the cross, he spoke about seven times. In these times of the extreme crisis for Jesus, there really aren’t many words that can be spoken. Circumstances have spiraled out of control. Unjustified evil is being perpetrated. A sinless man is being punished as if he were the most hardened of criminals. And hanging on the cross, the words themselves would have been a painful exertion of energy and strength just to utter. Let’s listen to three of those words.

“Father, forgive them.” During a situation over which Jesus had no control, he offered the one item over which he always had control — forgiveness. Those present at the cross may well have remembered the countless times that Jesus taught about asking God for the forgiveness of personal sin daily in prayer. The more perceptive might have reflected that he had once said which is it easier to do — forgive someone’s sins or miraculously offer healing. Jesus whispered the ability to do both.

“I thirst.” The physical torture that Jesus had experienced each moment of that day is beyond description in a short column such as this. His desire to have his thirst quenched with water might well have been the understatement of human history. The soldiers instead offered him a mixture of strong wine — to the point of becoming vinegar — instead. A cruel gesture? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was a compassionate offering of a liquid that would numb the mind and quench the spiritual thirst brought about by such excruciating pain. Predictably the one who offered others “living water” refused to drink an artificial substitute.

“It is finished.” There came a point when Jesus’ battle for earthly survival was over. He recognized that his life — his ministry — was a part of a much bigger picture, a much bigger purpose. The time to suffer was over. And sometimes putting a period on one sentence allows for an exclamation on the sentence to come.

Brevity. In a world of words. Choose yours wisely, reflecting your purpose — who you are and what is important. Choose words which offer grace and forgiveness. And choose words that reflect your attempt to quench a thirst that this world simply cannot satisfy.

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