There is something wonderful about going home at the end of a day. To leave behind the world with its unpredictability, with its stresses and struggles, and return home, to the predictable, the familiar, the comfortable. It is a joyful thing. To kick off your shoes and relax in your favorite place to sit. To zone out in front of the TV or whatever screen of choice you like the best. It is something we often look forward to throughout the day. The comfort of your home is legendary, at least to you, because of a simple fact: it is yours. Your home is a place where you make the rules, you set the times, you define the rhythm of things. Your home is a place of magic and wonder. It is where you do not have to do what everyone else does. You can paint the walls pink with white polka dots and have a picnic on the living room rug if you want to. You can shut out the world and enjoy your own creativity in your home.
Or perhaps, this time of year your thoughts do not drift so much to your own home but the home of your childhood. When you think of Thanksgiving Day traditions or Christmas as a child, you think of the home created for you in those moments; the warm feelings, the sense of security and trust. There are smells that still bring you back. You can, even years later, clearly see those places where life was simpler, where things seemed under control, where there was some measure of peace and contentment. Perhaps home for you was a time when you were safe, where you did not have to worry, where you did not hope but, sort of, knew everything was going to be okay.
The trouble is, we cannot go back to those moments. We cannot return to the trouble-free days of our childhood and ignore the responsibilities and trials and struggles of life. Our childhood home is something to think about but not something to obtain. And the homes we have, the home we long to return to at the end of a hard day, why, it is not always there. Instead of freedom and peace and tranquility, there are messes and half completed projects. There are old routines which have slowly eroded your creativity and usually cause you to feel more trapped than free. Your home slips through your grasp as you find struggle and bitterness and resentment right there within the walls. The sin marking your own life, the sin that drifts in with all the members of your family, it has a habit of robbing your home of its peace and comfort. And so, often, home remains a longing but not a reality.
Today, we are given quite a gift in our Gospel reading. It is a text we do not often take much time to reflect on. It has been said that all the Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are simply passion narratives with different length introductions. That is, they all drive towards the telling of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection, though they observe different details along the way. After all, this is what the story is ultimately all about. This is the reason He came. Even Saint Paul would say to the church in Corinth, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Yet, the story of His crucifixion is not one we often focus on. Oh, we reference it as the core of our assurance and hope but this text is not normally the center of our time together. So, the details get blurred together, the movements get lost. But today we focus on something truly spectacular in the midst of it all, something delightful. For amid the death and chaos which fill the hours from His betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane to the final breath at Calvary, we are told of an intimate exchange between Jesus and one of the thieves hanging next to Him.
Now, from beginning to end, this text is all about forgiveness. It is about Jesus bearing your sins, sins you could never have atoned for, never have paid off, never have cleansed yourself from. He took them, all of them. He declared your sins are His sins. The wages of sin are death, so to death He goes. But the depth of this sacrifice is beyond our imagining. Not only does He bear your sins, not only does He pay the price, but He asks forgiveness for those who are killing Him.
There is a wonderful collection of devotions from the 17th Century, by Johann Gerhard, called: “Sacred Meditations.” In this collection, you find a powerful meditation on the suffering of Christ. Gerhard describes in great detail how every part of this man was injured: His body beaten, His faced marred by the spit of the ungodly, His ears filled with insults and mockery. Gerhard says, “Nothing in His body remained uninjured, except His tongue, that He might pray for those who crucify Him.”
So, from His actions and His words we witness the great work of forgiveness. It is work no other could do. And as He works, we find one of those who is mocking Him is one of the thieves crucified by His side. “Are you not the Christ?” he cries out. “Save yourself and us!” Save yourself and us? To save you He cannot save Himself. To save you He must die.
But then the other thief speaks up. And here, in the middle of the pain and suffering and chaos, we are given something beautiful. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:40-42).
Did you catch that? Did you see what is happening here in this moment up on the crosses of Calvary? This thief confesses his sin. He confesses how he and the other thief have rightly earned their condemnation. They are being put to death justly according to the laws of their time. He owns up to it and silences the other arrogant sinner. Then he asks to be remembered. “Remember me,” he says, “when you come into your Kingdom.” Now, this is an incredible moment of faith. Think of what that thief is looking at. Think about the context in which he says these words. He is not in a beautiful church. He is not sitting at the feet of a famous rabbi. He is not watching Jesus do miracles and wonders among the awestruck crowds by a tranquil Sea of Galilee. No, he sees Him dying, bleeding, and praying for those who are crucifying Him. He sees the ugliness of God and holds on to it for salvation. Remember me, O King, remember me.
The thief was done running, done ignoring the mess he had made of his life. He did not offer excuses or even shallow attempts to fix it all. Hanging from his cross, all excuses were removed and, so, he clings to Christ alone.
So, it is with you as well. You who long to have that elusive peace and contentment in your life. You who find how easily sin entangles you at every turn. You who mean well and want to do better, but over and again fall into those tired old routines of failure and shame. You who long to simply come home, but home is a mess you cannot fix, a misery you cannot overcome. As you live each day with longing and heartache and disappointment, this unnamed thief shows you the way home.
Stop running. Stop making excuses. Ask Christ to remember you in His Kingdom. His Kingdom; a place of everlasting peace, a place of forgiveness, a place of eternal joy and love. Or, as Jesus describes it Himself, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise, the key to paradise is right there on the cross, right in the middle of the suffering and bloodshed.
Jesus makes a promise on the cross. During all the forgiveness the whole scene portrays, there is forgiveness given to one particular man, one individual sinner. That promise is made to you as well. A particular promise about your salvation. It is salvation rooted in the same body, broken on the cross, the same blood spilled. It is your salvation by His sacrifice. Jesus promises you will come home, an eternal home, a perfect home. His home is a home without sin, a home without tears, a home without division or pain or suffering. Home awaits you. Paradise is ready.