Summary: The third sermon in a 2005 Lenten Series (communion meditation)
(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script ?The One in the Middle? by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, ?Watchers on the Hill,? produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)
On my office door is this poster that features a reproduction of Hyatt Moore?s painting The Last Supper with Twelve Tribes. (The original painting is 20 feet long!) It asks a very interesting question, ?What language would he use to speak to each of these?? The response is ?Their own.?
Featured in the painting are representatives from several different cultures around the world: (read the list on the back of the poster from left to right). This image serves as a reminder that today; millions of fellow believers have taken (or will take) communion around the world.
Many meet in relative open and safety but some will meet in secret or cautiously due to persecution or other restrictions. They will speak their own native tongues as they eat the bread and drink from the cup in various locations. Yet, all of us speak the same language - the language of Jesus Christ, faith, forgiveness and redemption.
The story in our main text this morning is found only in Luke?s account as the two thieves are given passing treatment in other gospels. We read this story in English because if the setting had been one in which English were the dominant language of the day Jesus would have spoken English.
However, Jesus conversed with this repentant thief in his language that would have been Aramaic, similar to what is spoken in that part of the world today. The key point is that Jesus spoke to this dying thief, this brother, this son, perhaps someone?s dad.
In the two men who died on either side of Jesus, we see the human race?s response options to God. Mockery and rejection or desperation and openness. The thieves represent us. The thieves are us.
Humanity hangs there, with life in the balance, with God the Son right in the middle. God is there for them (and us) but they are there because of the consequences of their choices.
Jesus stands ready to take them both to paradise. The offer of eternal life is present to them both as Jesus would express it in verse 34 with the words, ?Father, forgive these people, because they don?t know what they are doing.? The one scoffs at Him and the other reaches out to Him with a hope that Jesus will merely remember him in His Kingdom.
But in his act of confessing, ?We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn?t done anything wrong,? Jesus does more than a promise to remember him in the Kingdom; He brings Him into the Kingdom!
Jesus did not hang on that cross to merely remember that dying man?on either side of Him. Nor did He die to merely remember those who hung Him or said that He would be hung or those who mocked Him every last step of the way.
During this season of Lent, I have been reading a daily devotion from a booklet that contains scripture and some selections of the writings of CS Lewis, who was a leading Christian writer and teacher and who died the same day as President Kennedy was assassinated.
The reading that fell on the last day of February said this, "A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in the forgiveness of sins, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor.
But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.?
The repentant thief was out of excuses for his sin. In his rebuttal to the scoffing thief, he made that clear??we deserve to die for our evil deeds.?
If Jesus was physically able to look straight into the eyes of both, He would as He spoke those words. But Jesus also looked straight into ?eyes? of the man?s soul. He did not blink at the sin and sinfulness of this pleading repenter. He saw all the ?horror, dirt, meanness, and malice? of the thief?s sin. And ?He?forgave it?ALL OF IT!
The same holds true for each of us here this morning. The communion that we will partake of together in a few moments is a remembrance of that time and place when God looked into and faced the rage and terribleness of human nature created by sin and said, ?Father forgive them? you will be with me in Paradise.?