Last week I sat at the bedside of a woman who has struggled with her health for some time. It was her third hospitalization in a couple of months and that afternoon she was especially uncomfortable. Our conversation had waned when one of the cleaning staff quietly walked in. She greeted Anna by name and then proceeded to be about her work. As she was mopping in the far corner of the room, Anna turned to me and said that it always made her glad to see her students doing well. As sick as she was, she made sure to speak these words loud enough so her former kindergarten student heard her. Before the woman left, she bent over her old teacher and kissed her on the forehead as she said good-bye.
It seems to me that the remembering that is spoken of as we mark Christ the King this time through is both like this and of course is very different, too. We are not told that the criminal on the cross and Jesus had any sort of history, although we cannot know this for sure. For, in fact, the man who hung dying next to Jesus knew something of who he was, else he would not have defended him. And if he had no idea of who Jesus was, surely he would not have presumed to ask to be remembered in the kingdom Jesus was to come into. Since neither man had any real hope of coming off his cross alive, he must have believed that Jesus’ identity differed in a fundamental way from anyone else he had ever known. And as for Jesus knowing him? Whatever he may have known of the unnamed one who suffered beside him, it probably wasn’t all that positive and if he remembered him at all in that moment? Even though in his dying moments he did not display the cynicism and anger the man hanging on Jesus’ other side did, one would not expect the promise that Jesus utters now.
Of course, what we witness here is entirely different from any tender scene in any hospital room or anywhere else for that matter. For this is a remembering which has ramifications far beyond one fading November afternoon. Still, I get a sense of it from time to time in this life between us now. And if ‘remembering’ is powerful enough here and now to change us for the better, how much more meaningful is it when such remembering happens in the mind and heart of Jesus?
As it is Christ the King Sunday again, it is ours, of course, to note what this exchange offers us about Jesus as King. The sacrifice Jesus made comes to mind first and always. The forgiveness which is spoken for those who haven’t asked for it, who may not even know they need it, is also at the center of this image now. The willingness of Jesus to truly see the one hanging next to him — even through what must have been blinding pain — to see beyond his broken life and to promise to remember him? Well, that is the image I cling to now, for it means the promise holds for you and me as well. How about you?
- What do the images in this week’s Gospel text tell you about Christ as King? What surprises are there in Luke’s telling?
- Have you ever witnessed ‘remembering’ in a way that changed things? Have you ever remembered or been remembered in this way?
- How do occasions of such remembering compare to the account before us now?