Jesus, remember me
Right before we begin our celebrations of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany – our winter celebrations of hope and expectation – we finish the cycle of the church year with a reflection on the kingdom of God and the fact that we recognize and accept that Jesus is not only the one to give new direction to this gift of life here as our Prophet, not only the one to intercede on our behalf to the Father as our Priest declaring absolutely that all that could ever separate us from God has been taken away but Jesus is our King – the one whom we recognize as the ultimate authority in all things both temporal and eternal. Perhaps today our willingness to commit our lives to the service of a King or Queen seems antiquated but to the people in the time of Jesus’ earthly life, it was recognized that such willingness was expected. Pledging allegiance to a king or queen was a sign that you were willing to accept all lawful oversight from that person and that you trusted that person to make decisions that would ensure you lived your life with the assurance that you would not be abandoned or harmed.
Of course, we know that every human king or queen that the world has ever known has never been able to perfectly fulfil the trust that their people placed in them. We live in an imperfect world of imperfect leaders. As much as our leaders may do everything in their power to ensure the safety and health and well-being of their people, we see evidence of power struggles, corruption and failures on the part of leaders to preserve the life of every person.
As Christians, we have pledged ourselves to follow one King above all – Jesus Christ – whom we accept to be our Lord and Saviour, the physical manifestation of the God who was made known to peoples in ancient times and the very creative word of that God. Our understanding of the purpose of this life in general and our individual lives is grounded in our decision to follow the path of God as revealed to us through Jesus Christ and the wisdom and guidance that come from the Holy Spirit.
We actively recognize that we are in a relationship with a living being. We are not simply followers of a book or of ancient myths but followers of a being who existed from the beginning of time and continues to exist even today. While we have no physical presence such as those first disciples experienced, we have the knowledge that Jesus continues to live and that the kingdom where Jesus’ kingship ultimately rests is real and that Jesus is waiting for each of us to complete this life and be received into Paradise as we await the final victory of God. And while people may have believed that the message of God revealed by Jesus could be erased by his crucifixion, it is clear from our gospel lesson that people were prepared to believe that there was a kingdom yet to be revealed where people would come to a place of perfect peace and wholeness.
“Jesus remember me,” declares the one thief. He knows that he has made decisions in his life that have led to his crucifixion. He knows that for him this life will soon be over. Yet he also has come to believe that Jesus’ own death will not be the end of all life. He knows that there is a kingdom yet to be revealed and he wants to be remembered by Jesus.
I am sure that at the end of his earthly life – of this life, Jesus would have remembered the people whom he met, the people whom he taught, the people whom he fed and the people whom he healed. I am sure he would have reflected on the people who responded to his message – both Jew, Samaritan, Roman, Greek and others as well as those who struggled with his message and those who could not bring themselves to believe. I am sure he would have reflected on the strengths and the weaknesses of those whom he called to be part of that inner circle and I am sure that he remembered their strength of conviction and their failures to act. I am sure that he remembered their faith but also remembered their doubts.
Paul in one of his letters reminds those early Christians of this truth: If it is for this life alone that we have hope, then we of all people are most to be pitied. He spoke those words not to dismiss this life as of no consequence, but to remind the people that the resurrection of Jesus has given to them a hope for a life beyond this life.
Our passing from this world to the place where God will receive us and prepare us for the next life is to be a time of celebration. We will mourn the physical loss and presence of those we love but we have the assurance that they are ever remembered by God and that they will never be forgotten.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” said the thief. He couldn’t change what he had done in this life. He could only hope for forgiveness and the chance to be part of that kingdom of God that he no doubt had heard Jesus speak about.
Each of us can learn from the mistakes of others and even from our own mistakes. Each of us can learn to make changes in our lives that will enable us to reflect more closely the message of Jesus and so begin to find elements of that kingdom in this life. True, we cannot fully reflect that kingdom here, but we can commit ourselves to the One who is its king and endeavour to reveal our allegiance to this king through our words and actions both here in our community and in our wider connections in this world.
Ultimately, we hope to be in that place called Paradise where that thief would find himself - remembered by Jesus. But let us not forget that the goal is not to be remembered by Jesus only at the moment when we pass from this life to the next, the goal is to remember that the place we want to be in the future begins in the here and now and that to be remembered then requires that we remember now.
Every day we need to pray for Jesus to remember us and for us to remember Jesus!