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Jon Meacham, The Hope of Glory: Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (New York: Convergent, 2020), 128pp.Jon Meacham, The Hope of Glory: Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (New York: Convergent, 2020), 128pp.

If you are looking for a resource for Lent that begins this Ash Wednesday on February 17, Jon Meacham's little book would make an excellent choice. Meacham is on that short list of important public intellectuals who are openly Christian. He has published a dozen books,  and won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his best-selling biography of Andrew Jackson called American Lion. Today he holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Endowed Chair in American Presidency at Vanderbilt University.

Meacham's book explores the Christian tradition that began in the Middle Ages of contemplating the so-called seven last words of Christ from the cross:

  • Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • Luke 23:43: Verily, I say unto you today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.
  • John 19:26–27: Woman, behold thy son. (Says to disciple) Behold thy mother.
  • Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  • John 19:28: I thirst.
  • John 19:30: It is finished.
  • Luke 23:46: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.

The longest part of the book is actually his thirty-page prologue, which is followed by seven chapters that are about ten pages each, and then a brief epilogue. The challenge of the "seven words" is that of assigning theological meaning to an ancient historical story. In scholarly language, this is the task of relating the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith: "History and theology are inextricably bound up with each other, and together, I submit, they create truth." Meacham is well aware of the intellectual challenges here, but nonetheless describes his book as "devotional." The book began as a series of sermons at the Episcopal parish of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City (where he served on the vestry).

Meacham is a thoughtful reader who commends openness and humility. He rejects the fundamentalisms of the left and the right. "For Christians, the coming of Jesus's hour is the hinge of history… We kneel before the cross in homage to self-giving love, and the cross should serve as both rebuke and reminder — a rebuke to the world for its vanities and sins, and a reminder that at the center of the Christian story lies love, not hate; grace, not rage; mercy, not vengeance."

Dan Clendenin:

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