Second Word: Today you are with me in paradise.
Before we go too much deeper into these three hours it would serve us well to wrap our minds around just how horrific a crucifixion was. It was an execution that not only was extreme torture on the body, but also on the mind, soul and spirit. It was reserved only for the dregs of humanity, the bad elements of society that were even fit to be called human. Throughout his life, Jesus aligned himself with these bad elements and in death it is no different. Indeed, even as he prayed right up until his arrest “Father let this cup pass from me” in the end he willingly entered into this particularly gruesome form of death. As for the two on either side of him, all four Gospels want us to know about these criminals with whom Jesus spent his last hours. Jesus did not die among the religious establishment, the well-connected, the pillars of the community. We commonly call these two men thieves, but that word doesn’t do it justice. They were bandits: men of violence, ready to kill just as quickly as they were willing to steal. You could even go so far as to say they were domestic terrorists. Crucifixion took place outside the city walls, which you may recall is where they consigned the lepers, and kept away from the eyes of good and decent people.
Entering into Good Friday, then is an invitation to go where good and decent people never go.
It is also important to remember the effect the crucifixion had on the ones who followed Jesus. This is was the one they pinned all of their hopes on. He spoke of the Kingdom of God where there was good news for the poor, liberty for the captives and the oppressed. He made the blind to see and the lame to walk. He denounced the religious establishment for the hypocrites they were and confounded him at every turn.
This is the one upon whom they pinned all of their hopes and their faith and now he is here. This is NOT how things are supposed to be. But in the end The Empire and the powers of this world struck back to put an end to this mans rabble-rousing once and for all. Today, at least, the Empire has won.
It is an altogether strange and even unacceptable idea that the Messiah, a Saviour, the Son of God is crucified. I mean, what kind of a Redeemer winds up on a cross? But here we are. Today the world seems disjointed. Today the world seems wrong. For all of us that wear crosses on our necklaces and rings and sometimes even our T shirts we have to admit we don’t like Good Friday.
The Gospel of Luke invites us into a deeper part of the story. He really wants us to know more about these two criminals. One taunts Jesus and says “if you are the Messiah save yourself! And by the way save us too while you’re at it.” He’s still looking for a hero on a white horse to come and make everything right. But that Messiah is not coming today. The other man sees something else. Even in his tormented state with a sign hanging over Jesus head that mockingly says “This is the King of the Jews” he saw something no one else did. Something moved him to say “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
No one wants to be forgotten. Everyone wants to think that in some way their life matters. People of means will give huge donations so that their names will be inscribed on a library or a theater and others will have a scholarship or a building named after them. Many of us will leave detailed instructions for our funerals and burials to make the way we want to be remembered long after we are gone.
If we are honest with ourselves we seek desperately to be remembered in a certain way because we fear we are nothing. We fear we are nobodies. We want to know that what we do has value, that WE have value and our life has not been a waste. This thief, however asks with confidence to be remembered by Jesus because when Jesus remembers us, it’s different. Any time God remembers it does not mean that he is “recalling to mind” or “thinking about” something or someone. In the Bible, when God remembers, God ACTS and he acts on behalf of his people. This man recognizes Jesus kingship and gets a flash of insight as to what it means when Jesus says “My kingdom is not of this world.” The source of Jesus power as Redeemer of the world lies in this supreme self-sacrifice of love. His power is only made known in his death.
This is why we can trust that God remembers is, even when it seems we have lost everything and everyone, when it feels like every day is Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter will never come. No matter who we are or what we have done, or whether or not we thinks our lives have been wasted. We can trust there is a Redeemer whose love for us is stronger than death itself. By Jesus’ death, he has destroyed death.
We are heard and we are remembered.
When Jesus remembers is, he is claiming us as his own and we are pulled into the life of God by a love made visible on a cross. And being a part of that life is what it means to know paradise.
This is why we can sing with certainty our previous hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus I Cain would take my stand … My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the Cross”
And that is why we call this Friday “Good.”