by Ellen Sims
text: Luke 23:33-43
The Reign of Christ Sunday provides us with a necessary check on the human tendency to worship power rather than love. Jesus did not ask us to worship him but to follow him, adopting the values of humility and kindness, instating the practices of compassion and courage, persisting in his path of peace. His teachings, however, threatened the ways of the Empire, and that led to his execution. His teachings remain hard to grasp, harder to implement. As the un-king, he suffered on the cross while being derided by the ironic title of “King of the Jews.” And then he forgave his executioners. True Empire cannot be maintained without punishment and enforced conformity. But God’s empire runs on grace.
Down through the centuries Christians have glimpsed briefly Jesus’s egalitarian and inclusive vision of the kin*dom of God, but they have mostly turned it back into an earthly kingdom. What Christianity remembers about Jesus is too often distorted by our love of empire. Maybe we retain a false memory of the authentic Jesus because early Jesus followers were still enamored with power and might. As are we. How well have we “remembered” Jesus 2000 years after he walked this earth?
We want a God who takes our side against people who are different from us, and in doing so we mis-remember Jesus. One reason we come together each Sunday is to remember Jesus through the biblical word and through the meal we share in his memory.
But the question for today is not what it means for us to remember Jesus. The question today is what it could possibly mean for Jesus to remember the one crucified alongside him who pleaded to be remembered. And what it could possibly mean for Jesus to remember us.
Clearly, the man dying next to Jesus does not think Jesus rules a literal political kingdom. Jesus promises to see him again in a kingdom that does not yet exist, or not fully, not in this world.
“Jesus, remember me,” the criminal pleads, hoping their fleeting experience of mutual support and care will overpower the memory of the torture they shared.
This is the same poor soul who insisted Jesus had “done nothing wrong” but who could not say the same for himself. In his plea to be remembered, he is in a sense a stand-in for ALL imperfect Jesus followers, for we, too, long to be remembered. Our existential cry is to live on in some way we can’t imagine—but maybe even more fundamentally to be remembered, which is a way of living on in the memory of God’s people and in the memory of God. We put names on gravestones and compose obituaries and preserve family traditions in order to honor the MEMORY of loved ones. And also because our fear of being forgotten is great, as if our brief life might be undone if/when all memory of our individual lives is lost to the world.
With David’s death fresh in our awareness, I am thinking of the loving duty we have to remember him. We have a duty to preserve one another’s memories. “Open Table friends, remember me,” we implicitly ask of one another in the covenant relationship we share as members of this church and of the body of Christ. Loving communities and families not only carry one another’s burdens but also carry one another’s memories.
Let’s try to wrap our minds and hearts around this next idea: our lives may endure not only in the memories of our community but in the memory of God as well. More mysterious still is the idea that our most fundamental identity is that we live on by continuing to be alive in the mind of God. If God is that which loves, connects, and unites us, then we exist, fundamentally, as a part of God within that unity. God might be understood as that which encompasses all that was, is, and will be. Jesus was at one with God, having “the mind of God.” As Paul will later preach to the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In God we are lovingly “remembered” for all time.
The empires of this world, however, impose a kind of union through forceful conquest, domination, and subjugation as soon as there is an opportunity to do so. The peaceble kin*dom of God is invitational and exists now to a certain extent but not yet fully, meaning the fullness of God’s Kin*dom is not yet here, but we have sensed it – through the mind of Christ Jesus—and we are working towards it. When we remember Jesus, and when Jesus “remembers” us, we help bring the Kin*dom of God’s peaceable kin*dom a little closer to its fullest reality.
When we gather here each week, we remember Jesus and we ask Jesus to remember (that is, to re-member, to re-connect) us to one another and to the ongoing and ever unfolding story of God. And God remembers US.