By Pastor Jerry Donovan
Before Advent begins let’s turn to the traumatic story of Christ’s passion as recorded in the book of Luke. Focus now on just one moment in the midst of that scene of suffering and abuse as well as the extreme wrestling of the powers of light and of darkness played out in this moment in history. The scene is one of raging ugliness, but a glimpse of the light is allowed to shine through.
Luke’s telling of the Passion story in chapter 23 includes two sayings of Christ no other Gospel records. First “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” We’ve come to expect forgiveness from Jesus; that’s what he’s for, we think. So we neglect the shock value of this moment as he was being nailed to the cross, humiliated by having his clothing gambled over, mocked by the leaders of the people who were better at name-calling than leading, and dying under a sign that read “King of the Jews.”
But it is the second part of this passage that sums up his reign like no other. Suffering the abuse, even from one who was hanging beside him, he then accepted a blessing from the other side and blessed him in return. “Remember me,” the dying thief asked. “Remember me.” Not “redeem me, rescue me, restore me.” But “remember me.” You can’t help but wonder what that thief had in mind in that moment.
Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is important not to skip over “today” to get to “paradise.” It is the word “paradise” that occupies all our attention, causing us to think that what Jesus is really saying is: “as soon as we get through this little bit of unpleasantness, we’ll get to the real good stuff. So, hang in there, friend.” But if, on the other hand, we put the emphasis on the word “today,” we come out in a very different place. We can analyze that word in all sorts of ways, but it really comes down to meaning “right now,” “this present moment.”
He was inviting his new friend to join him in this garden of suffering, this moment of glory. It’s all one and the same. When we speak of the reign of Christ, we usually think of thrones and banners, clouds and an entourage of angels Luke presents a reign, not of thrones and palaces and places high and lifted up, but a wooden cross and a bleeding figure held in place with nails; or a wooden box filled with straw that scratched an infant’s tender skin; a garden of prayer; a table with friends and enemies alike; in a raging storm; and under dripping oil poured from a broken flask.
“Today you will be with me,” he said. He was; he reigns, exactly where he needs to reign. He reigns where you are, where the broken are, where the hurting and the hungry and forgotten are. He reigns where young girls are stolen away to be playthings used and cast aside; where people question themselves, their sexuality, their purpose, their value.
He reigns. And He invites you into this garden. Pledge allegiance to His reign.