Jesus teaches us how to live by the way he dies
Forgiveness is at the heart of being a Christian.
Not only that we are forgiven, but, as my dear friend Pastor Mack Smith used to say, “We are in the forgiving business!”
Forgiven, we are called to practice forgiveness of others – even if that is hard. We pray Our Lord’s prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
From the Cross, Jesus speaks on behalf of not just those who brought about his execution, but on behalf of all humanity: Father forgive them. They don’t even know what they are doing.
Bob Marley sang: “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”
While this concept sounds good, there ARE things in life that make us worry – that keep us up at night (and during the daytime.) Pain, suffering, loss, guilt, enmity. All things rob us of our sense of peace.
And when this happens, often we go to someone, either professionally or a friend, to find consolation and encouragement to keep going.
Certainly the thief on the Cross had MUCH to worry about.
Jesus’ words to him are that: EVEN THOUGH LIFE IS FILLED WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY, ULTIMATELY WE WILL REST SECURE IN HIS PRESENCE.
Both suffering great agony in the Crucifixion, Jesus comforts the repentant thief: TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME.
We are called by Jesus to bring similar consolation, comfort and encouragement, even if we are in the midst of our own pain.
We are, after all, fellow travelers in this journey called life. We reach out to each other and cry: Remember me! And the other responds, Not only will I remember you – we will be together in this!
Even at the point of death – concern for family is paramount.
How many times have I been with family who are “waiting on Mom to die” only to find that the one ill is actually waiting – often for that last child to come and make peace with them, or say goodbye.
Not all relationships with birth families are good. I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that the pain from childhood and youth – and yes, even adulthood relationship with parents and siblings makes a reconciliation almost impossible. Some determine that little or no contact is the best for their own sanity.
It is unfortunate that our human sin causes such situations, but it is a reality. Just because my family is on good terms with each other doesn’t mean that everyone else’s is.
And yet . . .
Jesus is concerned for those who are left behind.
My Mom says she is not afraid to die at all. But she will hate to leave us behind, knowing that we will miss her.
Jesus shared the same concern with his disciples before his own Passion and Death. “I will not abandon you. I will not leave you as orphans. The Father and I will come with the Spirit and make our home WITHIN you.”
And here, even as he hangs on the Cross, Jesus shows concern for his dear mother – AND for the disciple whom he loved and trusted to care for his mother.
Family relationships – whether with birth families, or with the families that we create for ourselves, are important for us. And care for them helps to make the journey less dangerous.
In our pain, even at our dying, we can sometimes feel all alone.
Jesus is in solidarity with us in this. He feels that sense of abandonment and cries out in sorrow.
It is alright to be afraid. It is a natural human expression. We don’t always have to be tough.
We also don’t have to fear crying out to God.
Some folk think: Oh my, I can’t cry to God. It might anger him and he might do something even worse to me. It is sacrilegious.
Look, if you are feeling angry, or scared, don’t you think it is better to be honest with yourself AND ESPECIALLY WITH GOD WHO ALREADY KNOWS WHAT YOU FEEL, to express it?
Jesus teaches us that in those times when we feel alone, we can cry out to the Father.
Often in life, we get thirsty.
Literally, when we are sick and hospitalized, we are hooked up to IV bags and you can guarantee that at least ONE bag is there to hydrate us.
But we are thirsty for spiritual nourishment in our lives as well. We run from place to place, read so many things, seeking for a sense of purpose, a sense of the beyond, a sense of meaning for our lives.
God is here, as our Great Shepherd, bringing us to cool pastures and still waters – telling us to drink of him.
Jesus told the Samaritan Woman at the well that he could give a spiritual fountain that can well up in us so we are never thirsty again.
We cry out in the darkness of our lives:
Give me this water!
IT IS HERE. THE CROSS IS THE WELLSPRING OF LIFE FOR US.
THE BAPTISMAL FONT GIVES WATER FOR OUR ENTIRE LIVES.
THE HOLY COMMUNION FILLS US WITH HEAVENLY DRINK OF JESUS HIMSELF.
When we cry that we will die of thirst, Jesus brings us himself to slack our thirst and give us life.
IT IS FINISHED.
Will our work ever be done?
Will we, as we sing in some hymns: have the chance to “rest from our labors?”
I look forward to retirement – a few years off, mind you. I want to sit back and drink cafecito and visit the museums and parks of whatever city JC and I land in.
My parents tell me that, once they retired, they wondered how they ever worked – as they were busier in retirement than when they were officially “on the payroll.”
Several translations have Jesus say, IT IS ACCOMPLISHED.
For me, this means he is telling us:
I’ve completed my reason for being here. My work is ALMOST done. Of course, there is Easter Sunday which is the rest of the story.
Whether at retirement or on our death bed, how wonderful it would be to say with confidence: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED.
I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther who said:
It is in death that we FINALLY become what God declared us to be in our baptism. TOTALLY pure, TOTALLY clean, TOTALLY sinless. For it is in death when we sin no more.
Given THAT knowledge, and that this is GOD’S work, then with confidence we can join Jesus and say: IT IS FINISHED!
At the end of his earthly life, Jesus reminds us that we are God’s and we return our very spirit to God.
If we can remember this, that God created us, that God sustains us – even in the darkest of times, and that we will – at the time of our death – “return” to God, we can live with confidence, secure in the knowledge that we are NEVER far from God’s grasp.
In fact, we rest securely in God’s loving arms, all the way through life.
In my last parish, on Long Island, there were a series of Stained glass windows depicting various stories and images of Jesus – just as we have here at Trinity.
One shows the Good Shepherd, Jesus, holding a lamb in his arms, looking upon it with love. Other lambs and sheep are at his feet.
One dear member, a widow, said that, after her husband died, she moved her seat in the church so that she could see that window. She didn’t hear the sermon, she could barely sing the hymns, but every Sunday she was there, looking at that image of the Good Shepherd.
She shared with me that in her grief, SHE was the lamb in Jesus’ arms. And every week she said in a silent prayer:
Jesus, I’m the lamb in your arms. Hold me close and comfort me. When the time is right, you can put me down so I can scamper off into life. And you can pick up another of your lambs that needs comfort.
But not yet. Not just yet!
Jesus, at the end of the agony of the Cross, confidently proclaims what he ALWAYS knew to be true:
at the Temptation,
when the disciples didn’t understand him,
when he was questioned by the religious authorities of his day,
when he was in the Garden in deep prayer,
when he was on trial before Caiphas and Pilate,
and now, almost dead on the utterly painful Cross:
Father, I am and have always been yours. And now,
INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT.
So let us have the confidence in our own lives to utter such words of faith.