“Jesus, remember me” (From Luke 23:33-43, Proper 29C, The Feast of Christ the King). Those words from the thief on the cross echo a cry that arises deep within each one of us.
We all know what it is like to be remembered and we know what it is like to be forgotten. Think of a time you were remembered, what happened, how it felt. Maybe it was a phone call, a letter, a visit, a gift, a simple word. Maybe it was a surprise or maybe it was what you were hoping for. Maybe it was as seemingly simple as someone recognizing you, looking you in the eyes, and calling you by name. Regardless of what it was or how it came about it brought you some sense of life, healing, and wholeness. We all want to be remembered. It means that we matter, we belong, we exist, and our life is real. When we are remembered someone else bears witness to all those things.
There is life, presence, and relationship in being remembered. We know how important remembering is. That’s why a couple of weeks ago on the Feast of All Saints we remembered by name those we love and who love us, those who are forever a part of us and our lives, those who have nurtured, cared for, and taught us. When we are remembered it is as if our life is being put back together, because it is. That is exactly what is happening. We are being made whole. Despite the scattered pieces of our lives, things done and left undone, in the moment of being remembered we are seen, recognized, and known by name. We are alive. We are remembered.
Compare that with a time when you were forgotten. What did that feel like? Have you ever sat in a restaurant waiting for someone who did not show up? How about that person that looks at you, begins to speak, and you realize they have no idea who you are or what your name is? Maybe someone forgot your birthday, or the anniversary of your wedding or the death of a loved one. In those moments we feel alone, abandoned, uncertain, afraid, wounded, maybe even angry. There is a sense of helplessness. Questions and doubts arise within us. We are no longer sure of our place and whether we even belong. Regardless of why or how it comes about there is hurt, separation and isolation, a dismembering of the relationship and our life.
No one wants to be forgotten or asks to be forgotten. Whether we speak it aloud or not our cry is to be remembered. Everyday we stand on the threshold between being remembered and being forgotten. We also stand on the threshold of remembering and forgetting another.
I am not talking about the usual understanding of remembering and forgetting as a mental activity. This is more than recalling a past event or failing to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the milk. I’m speaking of re-membering in the sense of joining the pieces together, putting the parts back again as one. The opposite of re-membering is dis-membeirng; separation, pulling apart, tearing limb from limb.
The thief on the cross wants to be re-membered, put back together again. He is not asking to simply be thought about. What good does that do him? He cries out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “I’ll think about you when I am in paradise. I’ll think about this day. I’ll think how tragic and sad your life is but I won’t do anything about it.” That’s neither what the thief is asking for nor what he needs. That’s not what we need nor what we ask for.
Just like the thief we want to be re-membered, to have the many pieces of our life put back together. Our cry to be re-membered is also a recognition and confession of our dis-memberment. We have been dis-membered. Pieces have been scattered and lost. Sometimes it happens through the circumstances of life; loss and grief, shattered dreams, disappointment, regret, failures, the death of a loved one. Other times it comes about through our actions, our words, even our thoughts. Our life becomes fragmented and broken. When that happens we can easily become thieves. We take what is not ours. We dis-member others’ lives in an attempt to put our own back together.
It happens in all sorts of ordinary ways: anger and resentment, criticism, judgment, envy, comparison and competition, gossip, bad mouthing another, perfectionism, the need to be right or in control, busyness, excessive productivity and efficiency. Look at your relationships. Wherever there is strain, hurt, brokenness, chances are that you or another are being dis-membered, forgotten, torn apart.
That is not the life God gave us. That is not God’s dream or hope for us. That’s not what it was like in the very beginning, on the day of our creation, when God looked at all of creation, us included, and declared, “It is very good.”
Sometimes, however, we don’t even recognize our own dis-membering. Listen to what the leaders, the soldiers, and the other thief in today’s gospel say. “Save yourself. Prove who you are. Save us.” They want a magic show. They want to escape their lives rather than have them put back together in a way they could never imagine. So they mock. They deride Jesus. They demand proof. Those are all signs of their own dis-memberment. They even divide, dis-member, Jesus’ clothes. In the midst of all that, however, there is an ironic truth. It is an inscription hanging above Jesus, a sign of re-membering: “This is the King of the Jews.” It declares a re-membering between the Jews and their king, between God and God’s people, between Jesus and us. The cross is the ultimate act of re-membering; God in Christ joining and aligning himself with us in the pain and suffering of this life. Re-membering is always act of love.
Every time we participate in the life of Christ by living with mercy, compassion, forgiveness; every time we speak a word of hope and encouragement; every time we love without condition, expectation, or payment; every time we share our bread and live in communion with one another we participate in Christ’s re-membering of our own lives, the lives of each other, and the life of the world. We “do this in remembrance of [Jesus].” In those moments we hear the promise of Jesus, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Paradise is the state of being re-membered. It is what Jesus offers us and what we, in our re-membering and living like Jesus, offer each other. Re-membering is neither about the past nor the future; it is about today. It is Jesus’ presence with us, and ours with him and each other, here, now, in whatever our life circumstances might be.
“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Why is that the promise given us on this Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church’s year? Why this gospel on this day? That promise is the hinge between the ending of this liturgical year and the beginning of the next. It stands between the crucifixion and the nativity, the falling of the temple from last week’s gospel and the return of Christ in next week’s gospel. Ultimately, though it is the promise that joins the many different endings in our lives with a new beginning. In Christ’s eyes we are never forgotten and dis-membered. We are forever and always re-membered. “Today you will be with me in paradise” is Jesus’ promise to each one of us, this day and every day.