Most of you know that our daughter Chloe Rose is developmentally challenged. That is, of course, not all she is. She is beautiful, joyful, pushy, chatty, sometimes angry, but always her own unique self. But let me take you back to October 14, 2003. Chloe and I were downstairs in the same hospital where, a few floors up, her little sister and mother were briefly residing ... said sister having just been born the previous day. In a weird twist of fate, poor planning, whatever, our 3.5-year-old Chloe had an MRI scheduled that day, the day after the big day of Olivia’s arrival into the world.
So, having tried a few times to have a brain scan for Chloe to try and see why she was having so much difficulty talking, processing, etc., we were now going to have a sedation MRI, so the docs could learn more. So, Chloe was in the MRI, Olivia and Tracey were upstairs, and I was alone in a tiny waiting room at the end of an really long hallway, feeling terrified, alone, helpless, useless and wondering where God was in my time of pain. Then, down the hall, strode Fr. Rob Brown, the man who just three years later would not only send me to seminary, but help us finance that education as well. He came down, saw the look on my face and, and I fell into the arms of a truly large man. We sat down and he began flipping through the Prayer Book I had brought with me, being very new to the Episcopal Church at the time. He joked about the fun of the 39 Articles (take a read sometime if you are suffering from insomnia; they are in the back of the prayer book, so far back they are barely in it) and before long he and I were laughing. He went back with me when Chloe starting coming out of the sedation and he rubbed her back while I held her, then praying for her and with us. We have been a long way with Chloe since then, with our lives since then. But, I have always remembered how a big bear of a man was God’s instrument of remembrance and grace in a time of fear, confusion, and the unknown.
I realize that this is a personal story about me and my life, but, as I struggled to communicate the reality of the Gospel today, God seemed to be urging me to share a story where someone, in God’s name, remembered me, to remind all of us the power of God through his son, Christ the king: God remembers us, and transfers us from darkness into the kingdom of His Son, Jesus, and into the redemptive life in His presence; Jesus remembers us, even in His kingdom.
A criminal, broken, alone, and looking back, perhaps, on a life without too many great highlights, turns to the man beside him. This man has been taunted, derided, beaten, and now is being mocked by all those around, from the Jewish leadership, to the Roman soldiers who now throw dice to see who will get his garments, to the other criminal, concerned about his own death. The criminal to Jesus left or right, who knows, often simply called “Criminal number 2” who would only be an extra with a few lines in the Jesus story, says, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus is on the other end of that personal call, as He always is, and says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me, in paradise.” Jesus remembers the unrighteous man, in pain, terrified, and alone – facing the darkness – and Jesus says to Him, “Yes, I will remember you, I will save you, even now, where you are. You are not lost to me.”
Today is the feast of Christ the king, a young feast in the life of the church, instituted by Pope Pius XI less than 100 years ago. Only in 1970 was the Feast moved to its current place, the last Sunday of our liturgical year, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Christ the king marks an end and a beginning. God’s intervention into the world in the person of Jesus Christ marks the beginning of the end of our sorrow, our hardship, our pain...our darkness. Paul in Colossians, makes a glorious statement on the kind of rule that our king of kings institutes: “through Him God was pleased to reconcile himself to all things, whether on earth or in heaven ...” God, in Christ Jesus, has brought us into His loving and forgiving presence, reached out into our darkness, and saved us. How did God do this? Listen to how Colossians finishes for the answer: through the blood of His cross.
And it shouldn’t be lost on us the Gospel of Luke tells us, “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there with criminals.” Jesus began his ministry with the poor, the isolated and disenfranchised and he ends it the same way: with people for whom the very worst, most humiliating treatment had been reserved. Jesus would have it no other way. His crucifixion with the damned of the world, the criminal, the unrighteous, the outcast...the forgotten, shouts to us across the millennia that Christ the king is king of all and would bring all of us, no matter how low, how poor, how wealthy, how broken or marginalized into his kingdom. We need only turn and fall into his grace.
The criminal’s request tells us that we do actually play a part in our own story of salvation, the tiniest part, as Karl Barth would say. Christ has not saved himself, as the crowd taunts him to do; He never spares himself, he spares us, He saves us, He remembers us and transfers our darkness into light. But we must turn to him, we must lay our request for blessing at His feet, thinking, believing, that Jesus is capable of taking us by our broken hands and bringing us into the courts of His presence. We are Jesus’ instruments of blessing and can speak words of His salvation in the world. We are called to be the vessels through whom Jesus transfers HIs bought and paid for grace into the needy lives of the “other” in our lives, or in the world.
The crucifixion story actually is a story of Thanksgiving, a beginning and an end. Another liturgical year is over and a new one begins. Every time we remember that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever remember what we are baptized into: the death and resurrection of Christ. We are saved by His sacrifice but, even more importantly, we are marked as God’s remembered for all time, no matter how far we fall into darkness or wander from our sense of God’s grace. I say this day, “Jesus, remember us, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus turns to us, looks directly into us, and says, “Truly I tell you; I am with you,” which is as close to paradise as we come, this side of heaven. The presence of Christ does not mean we won’t suffer but it does mean we will never be alone. May we turn to Jesus and speak. He is always listening, ignoring his own pain, His own suffering. Thanks be to God that we have a king who remembers us.