Today we remember the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We remember how he was betrayed, abandoned, and denied – by those closest to him. We remember the violence, anger, and resentment mobs can carry when self-righteousness becomes the driving energy force. We remember how weapons used for war and courts for trials reveal to us how fallible human institutions can be when compared with the providence and salvific plan of God. Today, we remember anxious politicians scared of their constituents’ shadows. We remember soldiers justifying their acts of cruelty as alleged protectors of the state. We remember hecklers, hypocrites, and apathetic on-lookers. All of these characters are guilty, and all of these characters are us.
There is also another type of remembering, and it comes from an unlikely source. It comes from a criminal. From his cross, the unnamed man admits for all of us our own guilt. We stand convicted of pride and presumption, anger and resentment, malice and greed, lack of discipline, cruelty and indifference. From his cross, he admits to all of it saying, I have been condemned and condemned justly. I deserve what is coming. This is his confession, and he doesn’t stop there. Like the prophets of old he steps over the line and dares to inquire of God. Dares to ask him yet another question of clarification, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The man is not presumptuous here. The kingdom of God does not belong to men like him; and yet, from this man’s cross and from this man’s suffering he finds faith, seeks after hope, and desperately begs for charity. And what Jesus does from his own cross goes beyond merely remembering. Jesus himself steps over that same line daring to promise this man eternal life in him. Paradise with him.
Like the women in today’s story who observed all these things from afar we too are to objectively self-examine the state of our souls, questioning our intentions, presumptions, and biases. As this work is being done within the hills and valleys of our hearts, we are to act like Simon of Cyrene, who coming from the country of his heart took up the cross of Christ holding onto it for a little while knowing full well he must one day take up his own. Finally, we must be like the criminal, who does take up his own cross, realizing that the life he has led should be crucified, and the life he must now lead welcomes him as a friend of God’s.
Today is the beginning of Holy Week. If you believe Christ when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” then come and be forgiven, come and be washed on Maundy Thursday. If you believe in the cross of Christ, and how it was not only used as an instrument of torture, but also one of redemption then come and claim this truth on Good Friday. If you uphold the faith of the Church that being washed by Christ in the waters of Baptism gives one access to his Body and Blood, come to the Great Vigil on Saturday and renew your faith in Him. Finally, if you know a person that needs to hear the redeeming message of Jesus Christ as a message of love, then invite them to church this Holy Week as a preparation for the celebration of Resurrection one week from today. As Christians our very life as the Body of Christ depends upon this witness, our witness – together.