It may seem strange to read a story of the crucifixion right before thanksgiving, and as part of our celebration of those who have
died. But here is the thing. In this passage we have criminals who are
suffering with Christ. We have people who were not perfect, people who were so
bad at least in the eyes of the government that they were given a public,
humiliating and awful death. And yet, despite that, they come to have a deep
conversation about Christ and with Christ – as they suffer.
It begins with the crowd. They mock Jesus, “He saved others, let him save
himself if he really is the Christ, sent from God, the chosen one.”
Then the soldiers join in, as they start mocking him. “If you really are
the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
And these two fellow victims who hang on the crosses next to Jesus, join in
the conversation. The first has been listening, and I think, as he does so, he
has the smallest glimmer of hope. He realizes that if Jesus is who he says,
that perhaps there is escape from this awful punishment. So he asks, “Aren’t
you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Almost every interpreter I have read
judges this criminal and makes it sound like he is joining the soldiers and the
crowd, making fun of Jesus. But I don’t think so, I think he is grabbing at the
faintest of hopes. He is begging – save yourself and save us. It comes across
self-serving, but when you are hanging on a cross dying, being self-serving is
okay. So I don’t really think he is mocking Jesus. I think he is grasping for
hope, like most of us do when life is at its worst.
The second criminal is far more reflective. He thinks about what he has
done to earn his punishment, and then he looks at Jesus and humbly says that
Christ has done nothing wrong. Then in faith he adds, “remember me when you
come into your kingdom.”
Perhaps he had heard the story of King Frederick the Great who was visiting
the jails of Potsdam and speaking to the inmates. Surprisingly, every single
one of the inmates expressed to the King that they were totally innocent of the
charges against them. Near the end of the King's visit, one of the inmates
shared with him, "My King, I am guilty and deserve the punishment I am
receiving." The King ordered the man to be released. With a smile, the
King said, "After all, I don't want him to corrupt all the innocent people
Maybe this criminal was hoping by confession to be let go, but I doubt it.
More likely he understood that Jesus was an innocent man, condemned by
politics. More likely he understood that Jesus was a good religious man, who
truly helped others. It appears he even understood that Jesus’ kingdom was
real, maybe not on earth, maybe in our hearts, maybe in heaven, but that God
had a plan for this suffering messiah beyond the cross. So he simply asks to be
Christ then replies, “I assure you that today you will be with me in
To me, there is this amazing thing here. A criminal expressing only the very simplest faith, making only the most
simple plea – to be remembered by Christ is told that on that very day he will
be with Christ in paradise.
You know, that should be a huge comfort to us as we think about our loved
ones. Some of them deserve to be called saints.
“A little boy attended Church with his Grandfather one Sunday. Grandpa's
church had beautiful stained-glass windows. Grandpa told his grandson that the
windows contained pictures of Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint
John, Saint Paul, and whole lot of other saints.”
“When he got home, the boy told Mom and Dad all about it. Dad, wanting to
be funny and curious about what his son had learned, asked, "What is a
saint?" The boy thought for a minute and then replied, "A saint is
somebody the light shines through."
That’s “a pretty good definition of a Saint. Who are your saints? Who are
the people in your life who let the light of God shine through them for you to
They were truly people that pointed us to Christ, they were one’s whose
lives were light and hope and inspiration. And it is easy to imagine them with
But this passage goes beyond that, it includes others who may have been sort of ordinary, they may not have been perfect.
They may have had a simple faith, but said little or did little to express it.
Or in fact, they may have been deeply flawed – they may have been thieves and
even condemned to death for awful acts.
But, but Christ remembers all of them as he sits in his kingdom, he
receives them with only the simplest statement of faith, and calls them his
own. Do you realize how amazing that is? Saints, ordinary folk, sinners of the
worst type, all are welcomed into paradise simply by asking Christ to remember
It doesn’t take a degree in theology. It doesn’t take the sort of life that
inspires feel-good miniseries on television. These aren’t what get the criminal
into paradise. It is a realization that we are guilty, and Christ is innocent.
It is a realization that Jesus is the Christ, from God, and he does have a
kingdom, and we want to be part of it. That’s really about it. For all those
rather ordinary people, who probably aren’t going to make the “who’s who” of
sainthood, and all those deeply flawed, even deeply sinful people, even the
type that condemned to death for their crimes, for all of us Christ’s words are
pretty amazing, “You will be in paradise with me.”
What a hope-filled message!
So as we reflect on those who have died, whether they are the shining
saints or the unpolished ones; when we consider these people without whom our
lives would never be the same, we can know that they are in paradise today. Christ
remembers each and every one of them. Isn’t that nice to know? Isn’t that
comforting? I think it is!
Plus, we can also come to the point of making a simple statement of faith
for ourselves: starting with confession of our sins and then simply asking: “Christ
remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In doing this we can hear him
respond to us that we also can be with him in paradise (maybe not today – I
hope not today), but when that day comes and our eyes close in final rest – we
will be with him.
Once we come to know that message of hope, then we can begin to change our
lives, to work toward a different lifestyle, but at the very least we know,
that Christ will remember us; he will not forsake us, but he will welcome us
into the eternal kingdom.
So it may seem strange to read a passage from the crucifixion as we think
back on our loved ones who have died, but I think it is very fitting – it is a
word of hope, a reminder of forgiveness – from people who were facing imminent
death themselves. And it tells us there is a future beyond the grave.
Networks, Inc. , The Ritz Collection, by Eric Ritz
Networks, Inc., RSVP: Stewardship through Service, by Billy D. Strayhorn