Luke paints a picture of an innocent Jesus hanging on a cross in the midst of the guilty. We’ve already heard the first word, one of forgiveness: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Now we come to the Second Word, which reaffirms the message of the first: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Sometimes we forget, but Jesus wasn’t alone in his suffering on Golgotha. There are, according to Luke, two others, who, like Jesus hang from crosses. Like him, they’ve probably been charged with rebellion and sedition. Crucifixion was generally reserved for these kinds of cases. Rome liked to use this form of execution as a warning to anyone who might think about causing trouble – and they believed that Jesus must be a trouble maker.
These two men have a conversation with Jesus, but their words differ. The first man joins in with the crowd who are mocking Jesus as a failed revolutionary. It’s possible that he’s hoping to goad Jesus into action. Maybe Jesus still has power to come down from the cross and gather at the barricades! Yes, get us down so we can fight. But such is not the way for Jesus.
The second man seems to better understand the way of Jesus. First he tells his companion to be quiet – we’re guilty, but he is innocent. Innocent of what we’re not told, but the innocent is hanging among the guilty.
And then turning to Jesus, this penitent man, pleads: “Remember me.”
Jesus talks about remembrance in his last meal with the disciples. Taking bread and cup, he commands the disciples to share in a meal of remembrance: “Do this in remembrance of me.” In this case, it’s the penitent man who asks to be remembered: When you reach your kingdom, will you remember me? Will you welcome me? I may be guilty, but I want to be with you in your kingdom. I want to do it your way. Jesus responds: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Is this not the promise of God’s shalom, God’s peace? Is this not the vision of Isaiah, who speaks of a time and place where the wolf and the lamb lie down together?
What a wonderful vision this is. Jesus is going into his kingdom, but he’s not going alone. He takes with him the penitent one – the man who shares with him the suffering of the cross. Do we not ask the same question of Jesus? “Will you remember me?”
One of the clear messages of the gospels is that Jesus welcomed sinners into his midst. In fact he was reviled by some because he dined with sinners and tax collectors. After all, your character is revealed by the company you keep. And the company Jesus kept included people like the two men who were crucified with him. But is this not good news? Is this not the word of welcome that we desire to hear? We who are guilty, can find welcome in the presence of Jesus!
Yes, the one who hangs on the tree is the one who remembers and welcomes us into Paradise – the realm of God where Jesus remembers us.
To borrow from the words of Stanley Hauerwas:
“Our salvation is no more or no less than being made part of God’s body, God’s enfleshed memory, so that the world may know that we are redeemed from our fevered and desperate desire to insure we will not be forgotten.” (Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words
, p. 44).
This is second word is a word of grace from the lips of the one who asks us to remember him in bread and cup. Let us hear this gracious word anew: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
- Note: Today I shared the second word from the cross -- one of seven words shared by seven preachers from the communities of Troy and Madison Heights -- as part of a community Good Friday service held at First United Methodist Church of Troy.