Do you remember their phone number? Do you remember where we went last year? Do you remember his or her name? Yes, or no, or sometimes. But the word remember often has a much deeper meaning. “I’ll remember you tomorrow during the funeral… or during your surgery.” That’s praying for your comfort.
Or, “Please remember me while I’m at the doctor.” That’s a request for intercessory prayers.
Or, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” – words of Jesus. “Remembering therefore his salutary command and his promise to come again, we give thanks” that Christ comes to us in the Bread – our words of worship and thanksgiving.
Joseph said to his cellmate about to be released from the Egyptian prison, “Remember me when it is well with you; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place.” He wanted his cellmate to take action, not just recall Joseph’s name. Strong-man Samson, chained to the pillars of the pagan temple, prayed, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, so that I may pay back the Philistines.” God remembered him. Samson pulled down the entire temple. Samuel’s mother prayed, “If only you will remember me, and give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you.” God remembered. She bore Samuel.
How many psalmists have called out, do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; but according to your steadfast love remember me, O LORD! To remember — is a powerful word. On this day called Christ the King, we take a single snapshot of our savior, hanging between two criminals. The thief on the cross called out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Did he simply mean for Jesus to recall their experience of suffering, or did he have much, much more in mind?
We could look at the power of God at work in the resurrection. Or look in Revelation, where “thousands of thousands were saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive Power and Riches and Wisdom and Might and Honor and Glory and Blessing.” That’s all so other-worldly, too grand for us to grasp. Instead we see three crosses against a blackening sky. In his moment of humiliation, degradation, and total repudiation, we celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ.
Someone has written that every life has its most beautiful moment. It may be when a teenager has the first glimpse of mature responsibility and responds with strength and integrity.
Or when first-time parents look at each other across their newborn child. Or when a mature individual coming out of a crisis is overwhelmed with inner peace and security that cannot be taken away. We saw Jesus in the manger, in the temple at 12. Then next we heard John call out, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” We saw him hug the children. We saw him still the storm. We saw him take bread in the upper room, “This is my body… do this.”
But for the difference that Jesus Christ can make in how we face life, in how we struggle even as we look toward eternity, we must see his most wonderful, most awesome, most compelling moment. His whole story can be told in this single moment where God has taken an action for us.
God gave us his son. He turned the corner for the human family, reversed the power of Satan, and took the burden of obedience to God for all human kind. God remembered his people whom he created. In the midst of longing and aching and trouble and desperation, we want to know whether God can give us a message of hope and promise.
The answer is yes he can. We cry out, Jesus, remember me. He answers, Today you will be with me in Paradise. On the cross outside the city, outside the bounds of decent behavior and sensible decisions, there in a place of smelly smoldering garbage, discarded dreams and broken hopes, Jesus Christ came to the defining moment of his life for us. In accepting the injustice of his own death, he balanced the scales of God and eternal justice in our favor. From that moment, all human life and decision making must be changed to include what happened there.
Here is the man of all ages against whom all future decisions must be measured. Here is the foundation on which faith is built. Because of his cross, there are no old sins or injustices or habits that cannot be altered. Because of his cross, we can change the way we see life and our relation to other people.
A certain Viking warrior, so goes the tale, rounded up his men and prepared to set sail for a distant island where he would do battle against another strong man. The village philosopher stood by, watching. He said, “We are at peace. No one is invading us. Why are you sailing off to battle?
“To redeem my honor and my family name. I will go and kill the warrior who lives on that island.”
“But why must you kill him?”
“Because he killed my father.”
“But why did he kill your father?”
“Because my father killed his father.”
Then the old man gazed upon a very young soldier standing by, a teenage copy of the Viking captain.
The old man pointed to the boy. “Will your son and his son carry on the same tradition?”
The most glorious moment in the life of Jesus of Nazareth who became Christ of the ages was when he did not repay eye for eye or tooth for tooth. He did not react against the injustice of a false accusation. He did not die with a curse on his enemies that they would get theirs someday. He did not save himself. Instead, he demonstrated to the world that God loves his enemies. God does not return evil for evil. God’s finest moment comes in suffering love that keeps on suffering, bearing, hurting, dying so that we will be freed from the cycle of self-perpetuating death.
The climax of his life came with a final whisper of God’s desertion, the silence of unjust death — and the promise of paradise. Not one disciple came to his aid. Not one stood by for the last moment. Not one benefactor tried to redress this injustice, neither the centurion whose son was healed, or the blind or deaf or tongue-tied whom he healed.
Not one protested, “You cannot do this because he talked about the kingdom of God.” The devil had his way with Jesus of Nazareth, but only for a little while and we know the rest of that story. Now, where are we in this story, or who are we in this story?
We do not wish to be the silent people standing by. We truly are not the rulers scoffing at Jesus and putting up a tacky little sign to mock what he said about himself. Certainly we are not the soldiers who crowned him with thorns, and threw dice for his clothes.
Instead, two thieves were with him. One of them uttered the great understatement, “This man has done nothing wrong.” He recognized something different about him. “Remember me,” he called out, “When you come into your kingdom.” He knew, dying as he was, that Jesus was different and somehow, there was a kingdom of which Jesus was the head.
That thief was saved. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Therefore no person needs to despair. But one was lost. Therefore no person can presume upon God’s grace by which alone we are saved. Can we see ourselves in the thief who knew he was receiving the due reward for his misdeeds? Left only to himself, he has come to a sorry end. Yet, that thief shows us that someone as far out in the darkness of life as we can imagine, can still see a dim light ahead.
We see on the center cross a man who is bound, and yet free, dying and yet not conquered, repulsive in bloody gore, yet splendid in his strength and glory. Like the thief, we cry out to him, remember me. We don’t ask God to recall a deed or a moment long past but now almost forgotten. We whisper out of our fear and hope for the rsurrection of our lives,” Jesus, remember me. Make it happen, God, that our hopes, our dreams, our vision of a new day, our grasping for another chance, will yet be fulfilled.” And the dying and conquering Lord breathes his last benediction upon all that call to him.
We want him to remember his promise of forgiveness and the promise of fellowship with him which death cannot undo. His is the kingdom to which we belong, the kingdom that shall have no end.
Because he is forever king, we celebrate his cross.
We celebrate his throne. We celebrate our salvation.
He remembers us, and in his remembering, we are carried now over into paradise.
By his loving, conquering, unselfish death, Jesus the Galilean has become the living Christ the king of the universe.
We are already and forever in his kingdom because He remembers us.