Once upon a time, an old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his banker and his accountant, both church members, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled, and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said a thing. Finally, the banker said, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?” The old preacher mustered up his strength and then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves. That’s how I want to go.”
There on Calvary, Jesus hangs between two criminals. The three climb their crosses for different reasons. Jesus climbs the cross to model true discipleship and salvation. One criminal climbs the cross because of his crimes- he is bitter, sarcastic, without hope. The other criminal climbs the cross because of his crimes- but he is remorseful and repentant. In his ruefulness he requests something that might be on all of our lips today. “Jesus, remember me…” The criminal really says, “Jesus, woo me.” “Jesus, sue for me.” “Jesus, solicit me when you come into your kingdom.” As he does during his lifetime ministry, so now Jesus ends his lifetime service by wooing a common criminal and tells him that he will be with him in Paradise. How does the criminal join the Savior in Paradise? He possesses a reverence for God. “Have we no fear of God?” asks the “good criminal.” Have we no fear of our sins, our peccadilloes, our shortcomings, our prejudices, our grumblings and our petty fights?
In his fantasy novel, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says going to Paradise is like waiting at a bus stop. Lots of things happen at the bus stop! Just like the parking lot on Sundays where we can tell the true Christians from the hypocrites, it is the bus stop that makes or breaks that trip to the kingdom. For example, a rather short man with a scowl begins to fist fight with the Big Man and the two never make it on the bus to get to what we know as the garden.
One of the more important scenes in the book is when a woman named “The Lady” meets the “Dwarf.” In the afterlife, according to Lewis, all of us are exposed for who we truly are. The Lady and the Dwarf happen to be husband and wife on earth. But now, the elderly wife who was abandoned in the nursing home is now a transformed beautiful Lady. And the husband, who loved to blackmail people with his whining and sulking, is nothing more than a dwarf of a man. When they meet in heaven in the bright light, The Lady begins to ask for forgiveness. “…All I ever did wrong and for all I did not do right since the first day we met, I ask your pardon.” In the end, the dwarf of a husband cannot forgive, nor can he ask for forgiveness. All he can do is complain and frown. She says to her dwarf husband, “Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs?”
In the words of the good criminal, “Have you no fear of God?” It also means, “Have you no reverence for God?” It is the only way into Paradise. That word PARADISE is only found in two other places in the New Testament…2 Corinthians and the Book of Revelation. It is a Persian word that crept into the Greek language and it means, “a walled garden,” or, a “pleasure park.” If the king honored someone special, he would make that person a companion of the garden. The king would choose the honored guest to walk with him in the walled garden. Here in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, promises the good criminal, that he would become a companion of the garden.
“Jesus, remember me…Jesus, woo me…Jesus, sue for me” when I am too old, when I am too sad, when I am too busy…when I am too evil…when I am unlovable…in every minute of everyday, Jesus, remember me.” According to C. S. Lewis, heaven is so magnificent that it resembles the most beautiful garden we could ever imagine. But once we enter, we need let go of our crimes. Everything falls to the ground when we climb the cross and become His companions of the garden. We cannot pick up the golden apples until we let go of our sins. We cannot become a bright spirit until we let go of our grumbling.
At every Eucharist Jesus reaches out to pull us up with him on that cross. There he feeds us his body and blood. And there on the cross we meet Christ the King. That’s how we get to Paradise!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
Christ the King