You will be found.
No one deserves to be forgotten.
No one deserves to fade away.
No one should come and go and have no one know he was ever even here.
No one deserves to disappear.
-From the musical , “Dear Evan Hansen”
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.”
Just as I am
Some years ago, while visiting a nursing home, a staff member commented on one resident as we passed her room. Her advanced years meant she outlived friends and family. She was pretty much alone in the world. But from time to time, she would call up the local florist and send herself flowers, her way of communicating to the staff that she had advocates out there, someone who cared for her. She wanted them to know that she was not alone. She was not forgotten.
I never had the privilege of meeting this woman. From afar, I admired her moxie, her resourcefulness, her valor. She had wit. She had wisdom. She had flowers. She reminds me that we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.
Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on Saturday to march for their lives. One audacious, courageous young woman insisted on six-plus minutes of silence (on network TV) to make sure fallen friends were remembered, were not forgotten, did not disappear.
Our journey through the Gospel of Luke this Lent (see readings assigned for this week below) leads us to the core of the gospel, the Passion Narrative, Jesus’ final days. Luke, unique among the gospel authors, offers a memorable exchange between the two thieves on the cross and Jesus. There’s that one thief who makes this beautiful request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” His story resonates because we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.
The thief’s request was hardly transactional. He had nothing to offer Jesus except his failure and imminent demise. I do mean nothing. On the cross, no place for a wallet. No credit cards. No resume. No theology degree. No record of social action. No pedigree. No family connections. No generous pledge derived from a flush portfolio. You get the idea. He just opened himself up to mercy. All he offered was his need, that inner, unfilled God-shaped space.
And maybe that thief teaches us about how we’re supposed to approach Holy Week. As I thought about this thief on the cross (and as I thought about this lady in the nursing home surreptitiously calling FTD) the words of the hymn made famous by Billy Graham, and well situated in our hymnal, came to mind:
Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And that thou biddest me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
I have no idea how you will navigate this Holy Week. I don’t know what your faith community presents as options for observance. But I hope you will take full advantage of those opportunities in this week at the heart of our faith. And I wonder what you and I can learn from this thief. I’m thankful Luke included him in his gospel. He becomes our teacher as he models how to ask without condition or commendation: “Jesus, remember me.”
Note that the word “remember” looms large in Holy Week. It turns up at the Last Supper, as Jesus gives his disciples this feast of bread and wine to be shared in remembrance of him. Hear it as you join disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they remember what Jesus told them about his own fate. But most of all, remember how Jesus answers when that thief who had no standing, no status, asks to be remembered. Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus could have said: “You loser, are you kidding?” He could have said: “Where were you when I needed you?” He could have said: “You deserve what you’re getting.” Instead, he stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw this thief into his saving embrace. He draws you and me into that same saving and loving embrace. Thanks be to God, that’s what we celebrate this week. It’s not about transaction. It’s about grace.
On some mysterious, miraculous level, that holds the promise of paradise.
Good Book Club readings this week:
- MONDAY, February 26: Luke 8:26-56.
- TUESDAY, February 27: Luke 9:1-27.
- WEDNESDAY, February 28: Luke 9:28-62.
- THURSDAY, March 1: Luke 10:1-20.
- FRIDAY, March 2: Luke 10:21-42.
- SATURDAY, March 3: Luke 11:1-13.
- SUNDAY, March 4: Luke 11:14-54.
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