‘[Jesus] replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”’Luke 23:43
And thus ends the last reading of the last Sunday of the Church’s year. I turn the page of the lectionary and a blank page stares back at me. Next week begins the Church’s new year – new opportunities, new beginnings; next year we celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. But, let me explore the gift that God has given me – the present – and so, I focus on this Sunday, the Sunday entitled ‘The Reign of Christ’.
This Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost, declares the reign of Christ – the Vanquisher of Hell, the Lion of Judah, the Rose of Sharon, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd. This Sunday, we celebrate the victory that is reserved for everyone who believes and, for believing, seeks to live a life that is pleasing to God, a life of purpose. This week, we anticipate Christ’s victory when He will have won the battle of battles and will come as King of all. As St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24, this will be the end when ‘He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father, after He has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.’ So, the words spoken by Jesus are words of comfort.
Friends, wouldn’t you love to hear these words, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’? Would you not love to hear those words after you’ve confessed to Christ all the wrong things that you have done, as you surrender to Christ, as you give your life to Christ, as you entrust everything that you are to Christ? I should think in hearing those words, notwithstanding the circumstances under which they were uttered, I would have new life breathed into me. I should think the pain of my circumstances would pale in comparison to the glory opened to me through those words.
Why? Well, reflecting on the circumstances under which these words were spoken, we see three persons – two thieves and Jesus Christ separating them. They all hanged on crosses: a punishment reserved for the vilest offenders (talk about Jesus meeting us at the point of our need, right!). The crosses were typically stationed in a public place so that passers-by would see them and be reminded of the price that any enemy of the Roman state would pay once convicted. This was no private reprimand; it was a public shame. It was one that allowed Rome to rule with a heavy hand. But, I digress. As the three men hanged on the cross, one mocked Jesus, chiding Him for not saving Himself. The other rebuked the first, acknowledged that they deserved their punishment and affirmed Jesus’ innocence. He then turned to Jesus and pleaded, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ (Luke 23:42) This thief surrendered it all to Jesus at this point and was rewarded, as he hanged awaiting death, with the superlative gift of life eternal. Wow!
Friends, I tell you, after you have struggled, after you have been knocked down, after you’ve been through the fire and gone through the waters, these are the words that would efface the agony of your journey. As I share this thought, I’m reminded of what many women who’ve gone through labour share: that they have no recollection of the pain of labour once they’ve given birth and seen their baby. (I did not experience this since my children were delivered by Caesarean Section.) They are the words that confirm to you that it was all worth the struggle. I imagine at this point, you would be so overcome with emotion that you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, so overcome might you be that you would be laughing and crying at the same time!
Friends, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’ are the words of victory. They are the words of affirmation spoken to the one who didn’t give up on the purpose journey, not because you were never tempted to throw in the towel during the gruelling experiences, but because you believed in the promises of God. You stood on the assurances of God’s word as issued in Isaiah 55:11, ‘so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’
Earlier this week, I found myself driving behind a vehicle with the message, ‘The Victory is Faith’ on the rear windshield. That message gave me a pause, for, truth be told, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. But, as I turned that thought over in my mind, I became more and more convinced that that is the victory of the purpose journey – to have faith that can move mountains, to have faith that will carry you through, to have faith that gives you the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen as described in Hebrews 11. Friends, as you continue along your purpose journey, I encourage you to hold on to those words of Jesus’, ‘[…] today you will be with me in Paradise’ for really, a greater assurance has never been given.
Until next time, I bid you