Jesus, Remember Me
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Colossians 1:11-14 (NRSV)
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Luke 23:33-43 (NIV)
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In the year 1569, a Flemish artist by the name of Giovanni Stradano painted an altarpiece titled, simply, Crucifixion. The center of the painting is a tall cross, to which Jesus is nailed. Blood drips down the vertical piece of the cross, and above his head the papyrus manuscript bears scribbling in three languages- King of the Jews.
The scene is dark, literally. Jesus is fully illuminated, and the women and John at the foot of the cross. But to the right of Jesus, one criminal peers into pure darkness, and part of his face and body cannot be seen. Similarly, the criminal on Jesus left is partly obscured by darkness. Only the centurion, mounted on horse, is clearly visible among all the remaining characters in the painting.
It was a somber event on a dark day, and the only thing clear is the dying Jesus, on the cross.
The story tells us that the crowd is mocking Jesus. They are sarcastic, crude jeers. Even the placard identifying him as ‘King of the Jews’ is scandalous. Pilate, who had the placard made, had no respect for the Jews or their King, whoever he might have been. And the Jews who asked for his crucifixion- the priests and the Pharisees- they begged Pilate to change the wording on the sign.
In scorn, he sent them away, and refused.
One twentieth century poet described the context as “a place where cynics talk smut.”
I can relate to the criminal who joined in the mockery. He was under no illusions.
No illusions of optimism.
No illusions that things would work out.
No illusions that the powers and principalities could be swayed towards mercy.
No illusions that anybody, anywhere, cared about the three of them.
They were as good as dead, but they were a long, torturous distance from actual death.
So, his, “Save yourself and us” was a confession: they were all doomed, and you might as well admit it.
In the painting, he stairs into the darkest part of the dark. There is no hope.
There ar3e whole lives lived in that darkness.
But even a few moments in it, perhaps in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable day-
Even they can be terrifying.
Without hope we cannot live-
And faced with the reality of humankind’s cruelty,
Let alone all of our other failings,
There is no hope
If there is no God.
But there was another criminal there.
I don’t know who he was, that second criminal.
I don’t know his crime.
I don’t know why he did whatever he did.
I don’t know who suffered from his sin.
I don’t know what he was thinking as he carried his cross,
Or what exactly he might have cried out while they drove the nails into HIS arms.
But I do know that somewhere along his tortured path, he realized not only that he needed salvation-
He realized he wanted it.
And something else- somehow, he understood.
That the man beside him was innocent
But there with them nonetheless
Because he loved humankind
And because he was obedient to God.
So that second thief- he put his trust in the dying man beside him.
And he was saved.
Poet-songwriter Lauren Daigle has a song currently on the airwaves titled, “I Will Trust in You,” and the chorus goes like this:
When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust
I will trust in You.
So I’m looking at the second criminal, and wondering what he saw.
Did he see someone who did not practice cruelty even when surrounded by it?
Did he see someone who forgave even his murderers?
Did he see someone who was not afraid?
Did he see someone who trusted the God who had brought them all to that place?
Or was it something different?
Was it the fact that an innocent and holy man was there-
In a place where cynics talk smut
A placed filled with sarcasm and scorn
A place of fear and sorrow
And corruption and scandal-
A man who was there at his side while he was dying-
Not encouraging him from a position of comfort
But suffering WITH him, in a position of pain.
Maybe that’s what he saw
And maybe that’s why he, too, decided to trust.
So he didn’t ask for anything remarkable.
Only a thought, on the other side.
But he trusted that the dying man by his side
Was capable of just that.
And he is, and so much more.
So let’s pray the prayer he prayed:
Jesus, remember me.
Jesus, remember me.
Jesus, remember me.
And then let’s trust that he does, and he will. Because in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.