Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] 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.”
–Luke 23: 32-33, 39-43
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them.
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
–Stanza 13-16 from the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon
This coming Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, is traditionally focused on the theme of Christ the King. What kind of sovereign is Jesus? To find an answer, this week, we travel to the cross. We read Luke’s account of Jesus’ final hours, with that poignant exchange only provided by Luke. Thieves on either side of Jesus enter into conversation, one taunting Jesus, one defending him. The second thief then makes this request: Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Of all the things that this thief could have asked in final moments, he asks to be remembered. He prays that he will not be forgotten. Maybe that’s an unusual prayer. Maybe that’s everyone’s prayer.
My 92 year old mother has moved out of her home into an apartment in an assisted living facility. She has made the rather significant transition with grace. We have been working to help in the down-sizing process by going through her books. There are lots of them. On one shelf, she had spiral bound calendars going back over 30 years. I happened to open a few of them, randomly scanning the decades.
What I learned was that my mother was years ahead of Facebook. There’s a lot not to like about social media in its current unregulated state. But here’s one of the good things about Facebook. On any given day, one is reminded of birthdays, and given a chance to send a greeting. People are remembered. For the most part, people report feeling good about that.
Well, my sweet mom was way ahead of Zuckerberg. She’s been remembering birthdays for decades. For almost every day in those calendars, there was an indication of whose birthday it was. Some days had five or six entries. I’ve learned over the years that I should have bought Hallmark stock. Every single day she mailed multiple birthday greetings. She sent them to close relatives and good friends. I think she sent them to people she met standing in line at the dry cleaners. She sent them to prisoners she met with weekly, and to rehab center residents. She sent them to folks living in mansions. She sent them to relatives of relatives. And in doing so, she let people know that they had been remembered. Not a bad feeling.
It’s a small thing, I know. Obviously the prayer of the thief on the cross was a request for a more profound kind of remembering. It was of course more than a birthday greeting. I don’t know exactly what the thief was asking, but I imagine that his request to be remembered was a request for forgiveness, and grace, and inclusion, for hope of life changed not ended.
What he asked of Jesus, and in a small way, what my mother’s mailings indicate is that people matter, that there is inherent dignity in everyone. Everyone. As Jesus stretches out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, I hear him saying to all of humanity: You matter. You are actually worth remembering. He says that to you and to me. That’s good news because too many in our world are simply forgotten.
I regard my mother’s birthday cards as sacramental, a small outward sign of something deeper, that people are worth remembering, and that we can be part of that remembering, in the spirit of our baptismal service which tells us there is dignity in every human being. In ways great and small, we can offer forgiveness, grace, inclusion, all ways of being noticed, remembered, honored.
Who in your orbit stands at risk of being forgotten? Who has gone invisible? Maybe it’s an old friend, or a relative who drives you nuts, or someone in the nursing home you drive by every morning. Who in our society is forgotten? Can we find a way to work for justice and peace for the sake of the dignity of every person?
Can we do some holy remembering this week?
RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.
Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org