This is the Sunday when some people decide not to attend a service of worship , not because they have other events like the playoffs, if their team was able to have a winning season,
(and we are with them in spirit, to cheer them on)
or because they are caught up in Thanksgiving holiday preparations or trips,
(and we’re praying for them as they travel)
but because they find this Sunday’s worship too depressing, too morbid, to attend.
For them the last Sunday in the year of the church dwells too much on “last things” with the most real one being:
the end of one’s life – made even more final with the naming of loved ones who have died during the church’s count of time, and the ultimate end of earth as we know it, with writers and musicians and filmmakers surrounding us and and immersing us in vivid scenarios that are dominating the box office and Netflex rentals.
The more depressing, the more violent, the more visual the assaults of mechanical monsters and grotesque aliens reducing buildings and humans to twisted, charred remains, or vaporizing them into nothing, the better the chances of qualifying for an Emmy.
Luke the physician whose Gospel we have lived with in this third year of the three-year cycle of the church, takes us on this last Sunday to the last scene in Jesus’ life, which only Luke, the physician, has written into the horrific scene of Jesus’ death by crucifixion, and Mel Gibson replayed as a gruesome drama in real time with real people.
When we read Luke’s account with eyes as well as ears open to take in the scene, we are drawn into the drama of two thieves sentenced to death: one is being his thieving self to his last breath, demanding that Jesus act to steal him and his cohort in crime from the pronounced penalty; the role one person admitted we slip into when in excruciating pain or a dead-end crisis we’ve worked ourselves into and then cry out, “God, if you are really God, get me out of this!”
While the other thief, admitting his guilt, gasping in excruciating pain (for death on the cross was by asphyxiation), begs,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Remember me”, through the pardon you’ve just requested for the ones who have made themselves god and king of a kingdom that enslaves others to serve them and annihilates all who get in their way.
“Remember me,” as You rule in your kind of kingdom.
Our cry whenever we come to confession; “Weight my guilt on the scale of your love.” And Luke, the physician, records Jesus’ response: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” “Today!” “Today” for him was that hill of crucifixion, where the one nailed or tied to a cross was humiliated by nakedness, slashed with cuts of the whip and tongue lashes of Roman officials and Herod’s court, the kingdoms of this world showing their authority with military might and their systems of justice, and a crowd entertained by the gruesomeness of it all.
What still rules today, with plenty of evidence to remind us!
“Just wait, there’s more!” There’s more than world powers parading their count of stockpiled missiles armed with nuclear warheads. There’s more then all that seems so destructively real.
There is Jesus promising Paradise TODAY, the Paradise that Confederate and Union armies sitting around nighttime campfires sang about (and we picked up the refrains when we observed the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address that set aside a portion of blood-soaked battlefields where death is still felt today). One hymn heard in both camps was:
“Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;”
but then the lyrics take a turn from one’s last breath given up in death, to ongoing breathe in the midst of life’s ongoing Calvaries:
“Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Christ, abide with me.”
The “abide” in the Hebrew sense and Jesus’ use of the word, to be present with; Paradise in the midst of Calvary;
what Luke, the physician, who attended broken bodies and pain riddled minds and souls, saw to preserve for all future generations to say to themselves and others:
“Just wait, there’s more!”
The “more” beyond the world’s Calvaries, the “more” beyond death, the “more” of Jesus’ “…today you will be with me in Paradise.” The “Paradise” of the present moments and places where Jesus “abides” in anyone who lets Him set up the kingship of His kingdom where justice is balanced with mercy, hate is countered with compassion, and His loyal subjects pledge full allegiance to Him, knowing the Paradise days in the Garden of Eden will be restored in God’s realm that is to come.
And is already dawning in what the Apostle Paul called “little colonies” where people who follow the teachings and practices of Jesus experience He is “abiding” with them and every time they break bread and pass the cup of His Supper, He becomes enthroned in them.
To the church in the once prominent Colossae that found itself in decline as a new highway sent businesses to two other cities – what continues to happen, making for urban blight and an empty church – Paul wrote to remind them of the “Paradise” that was within them through the “abiding” Christ, enabling Paul to say:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,
and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
while joyfully giving thanks to the Father,
who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
In the strength of that blessing, when slaves in our nation’ past had to call a human master “lord,” they sang of their King Jesus Who created Paradise within them:
I know that my Redeemer lives; no one works like him;
and by his love sweet blessing gives; no one works like him.
O he is King of kings; he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last, no one works like him
Just wait, there’s more! The “more” of Paradise NOW, when Christ is enthroned in the human heart to “abide” as the Lord of His church,
a “little colony” of the first rays of God’s kingdom rule;
a “little colony” confessing in advance of that Day,
“O he is King of kings; he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last, no one works like him
His “work” of Paradise now and “Just wait, there’s more!” the “more” that has us singing
(Hymn – Glorious Things…”)