“Then [the criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
I woke this morning to the story of a man who was convicted of murder in the mid 90’s and subsequently served 23 years in prison. Earlier this year he was released after DNA evidence proved he was innocent, as he had professed all along. I teared up as I imagined the injustice, the time lost with family and friends and yet the overwhelming joy he must have felt. Anger and joy, the emotions of the oppressed being set free – what a story to wake up to on Good Friday.
Today we arrive at the crucifixion. Jesus is dead. There he hangs and soon he will be lowered and laid in a tomb along with creation’s hope of ever being set free and returning to the Garden of our youth.
But something incredible happened just before he died. Two criminals were hanging next him – one was mocking him saying he should save himself. The other criminal rebuked this man saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you were under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your Kingdom.”
This criminal, this traitor, this man, not unlike our brother Judas prays a prayer of confession and repentance and true desire and Jesus, our Eldest Brother, receives him saying, “…today you will be with me in paradise.”
Just yesterday Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine telling his disciples, this is my body and blood, whenever you eat it do so in remembrance of me. Today his body is broken, his blood poured out and the man on his right cries out, Jesus, do this in remembrance of me.
Christ is broken and dismembered. We often view the depths of brokenness which Christ reaches on the cross as depths we have not and could not go ourselves, but truly he meets us where we are. The man to his right, who stands in our place today, did not come to meet Jesus but Jesus surely came to meet him, to reach into his brokenness, to bring back together, to re-member his dis-membered life.
On Good Friday we do not come to Jesus as innocent children at the foot of his cross but as guilty criminals hanging to his side. All who desire to be with him must come to him this way, having accepted their own sentence, their own cross – the cross that is always ours before it is his lest Christ died to save himself. We must say, “We are punished justly…” We must also receive Christ in his punishment. We must come to him knowing his punishment is ours and yet we must also not move to quickly to call him our King.
My wife reminded me of the words of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. “What has not been assumed has not been healed,” Liz said, “This is why it matters that the son of God became fully human, flesh and blood…And because he did and died, whatever he assumed is also dead and buried and healed and resurrected with Him. Here’s to a God who assumed every bit of humanity so that we could become the Humanity He always intended.”
Jesus, today we come to you broken accepting our sentence. We pray as our brother taught us to pray – Re-member us when you come into your kingdom. We hope, though dimly, to be with you, with each other and with ourselves in your paradise.