“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;” Psalm 22:14-15
Much like the classic song, “Were You There?” the spiritual “He Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word” places the singer at Golgotha standing before Jesus on the cross. The entire text of the spiritual narrate the events of the crucifixion.
They nailed him to a tree, and he never said a mumbalin’ word;
They pierced him in the side, and he never said a mumbalin’ word;
The blood came trickalin’ down, and he never said a mumbalin’ word;
He bowed his head and died, and he never said a mumbalin’ word;
“He Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word” is unique from many of the other spirituals because it does not conclude with a touch of hopeful optimism or a positive affirmation. Instead it’s heavy repetition of “he never said a mumbalin’ word” reinforces a quiet, poignant dignity even in the midst of a dehumanizing experience.
The African-American theologian James Cone notes that the slaves were “impressed by the Passion because they too had been rejected, beaten, and shot without a chance to say a word in defense of their humanity.”
However, we know that, according to the gospels, Christ actually did say a few words. Combing through the four gospels we find seven final phrases of Christ from the cross (these seven sayings are the foundation for our Good Friday worship service).
From the cross, Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” and right before he breathed his last in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
But Christ never begged to be taken off the cross. He never cried out with a false confession hoping to cut short the torment. He never cursed his accusers. He never lost his identity or his purpose in the swirling chaos of pain. He never said a mumbling word like that
He said, “Father forgive them.”