I Was There

A view from Holden Village, 2006

[This is my meditation from last night’s Good Friday service at St. Andrew Lutheran.  There were seven readers, each with a part of the passion narrative from the Gospel of Luke, sharing from the perspective of one of the witnesses. We began with “I was there”…]

Luke 23:32–43: Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 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.” 

I was there, on the cross next to Jesus. The mood was violent, and the frothing crowd that had yelled, “Give us Barrabas”, and “Crucify him!” craved more. They tried to humiliate Jesus, even as he was dying. I don’t know why they were so angry. Maybe some felt persecuted by the Romans, and some were just caught up in the frenzied rally. They wanted Jesus to feel their shame and impotence, and mocked him with “Save Yourself! Come down from the cross now!”

Jesus didn’t save himself from the cross, but he forgave them. I was so angry at them all. They were so cruel! And he forgave them. What did this Messiah hold within his heart that he could forgive such hatred and violence? I chastised the other criminal for heaping insults along with the rest. Isn’t it enough that he was dying?

I mustered up all of my courage to speak to him. “Jesus,” I said, and was shocked at how intimately I was speaking to this stranger. What should I ask for? He hadn’t saved himself from the cross, so saving my life seemed out of the question. He was as powerless as I was. He was in the same bad state, maybe even worse after all of the beatings. Then, I said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t deserve a place with the Son of God. But I wept with relief at his answer. “Truly, I tell you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” Truly this man was the Son of God. I would not only be remembered, I would be restored. I would be with God. I had never been good enough or at all righteous. I felt shame and embarrassment about all I had done, but he invited me to be a part of his kingdom.

Even in dying, I felt great joy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sneer on the face of the other criminal. And I had compassion on him and forgave him. He was just as I am, and worthy of a place in the kingdom too. That day, I forgave myself, because Jesus forgave me. And I forgave the angry crowds and the brutal soldiers, because Jesus loved even them. And I entered into God’s glorious kingdom, of forgiveness, restoration, welcome, and peace.

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