|Lincoln City 2013|
Luke 23:39-43: “One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
Two condemned criminals are dying alongside Jesus. Sometimes, in our own suffering, we are like the cruel criminal, mocking others, striking out in our pain. Sometimes we are the one who yearns for God, praying for a way out of our darkness.
In the midst of their punishment, one of them recognizes Jesus. “Jesus,” he says. He speaks his name with familiarity, with intimacy. Not “teacher”, or “Rabbi” or “my Lord”, but “Jesus.”
And he makes a request. He takes a chance. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The criminal knows he is not perfect, far from it. He believes he deserves crucifixion. But he is bold and asks for a place in the kingdom.
What does he imagine that Jesus can do? This criminal had great hope. Jesus on the cross does not look like the triumphant leader expected in the Palm Sunday procession. The people mocked Jesus as the Messiah, but the criminal believed.
In the midst of his agony, this wrongdoer speaks to Jesus with boldness, with faith, and with hope.
And Jesus responds the promise of paradise: a promise of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, relationship with God.
We carry our own burdens of suffering and guilt. We long for connection, reassurance, and release. We may hurt others in our own turmoil. But we may dare to believe God offers us a new beginning, even in our pain and loss; that God is with us in our suffering.
May we be bold in our hope, take a chance on God, and ask Jesus to remember us. God says yes. The criminal called Jesus by name, and God calls us by name with compassion and mercy.
God says yes and pulls us into a closer relationship, a loving connection from which nothing can separate us, not even death. This is the promise to the criminal on the cross, and the promise to us today.