One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “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.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Hello Rev Merin, how are you?” This was a phone call from an unknown number and whose voice I just could not manage to place. So I tried to act as if I know who this is. “I am fine. How are you?” I have highlighted the ‘How are you’ because I was just hoping the person across would reveal who it is and end the game of “Guess who?” But the person continued “So you remember who I am?” I was wondering if it was Malayalam Superstar Suresh Gopi as his favourite one liner is “Orme undo ee mukham? ” (Do you remember this face). Jokes apart this was not funny at all. “You do not remember right? You have forgotten us.” And this person disconnected the call. I was dumb founded. How irrational this person was? Why was he so offended? What is there to be so offended?
To be remembered is the basic need of all human beings. Our life is a consistent struggle to be remembered. When we are remembered it means we matter, we belong, we exist. There is life, presence and relationship in being remembered. Being remembered is to affirm of our wholeness. Remember is Re-membering. When you remember a person you say, you are a member of my life, you are connected to me, you are part of my story. And if you do not remember, the exact opposite is what happens. The person feels dis-membered, disconnected from your life and concludes that they are no more part of our stories and not members of our lives. That really hurts, there is an isolation that other person feels in being dis-membered.
The scene at Calvary with Jesus hanging on the cross with 2 thieves on both of his side has caught my imagination. Leonard Sweet at Maramon Convention said that the picture of Calvary is not that Jesus is alone on the cross. The scene at Calvary is the picture of 3 Crosses. Let us hear the prayer of one of the Thieves “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23: 42) The thief wants to be remembered. That is his prayer.
We have to now connect some dots. In Luke chapter 22 we see Jesus having Passover with his disciples. And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22: 19) What was Jesus saying here? He was saying, I am giving you my body by being broken for you. Jesus is asking his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me”. Jesus wants to be Re-membered in the story and lives of the disciples. Jesus wants to be part of our stories and wants us to be part of his body. So the Holy Communion is allowing Jesus to be re-membered in our lives, to invade our lives. Are you ready to re-member Jesus in your lives?
Is this always possible? After the Passover meal Jesus is arrested and let us see what one of his disciples does. Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.”But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.”But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” (Luke 22: 55-60).
Peter is denying him? So what? Peter is dis-membering Jesus from his life by saying “I am not with him, I am not a member of his group.” Out of fear, Peter wants to forget that he is a member of Jesus’ group, a follower. Peter does not want to be part of Jesus’ body as he knows He is headed toward the Cross. We too wish to forget that we are members of Jesus’ body. It is dangerous. It is inconvenient. It is boring and we do not want Jesus to be part of our lives. We want Jesus to leave us alone in some aspects of our lives. We too deny like Peter.
And it is here that we see the thief at the Cross who has a life broken in regret, in pain, in contradictions, revenge, sin and remorse. He is a dis-membered person. He asks Jesus to Re-member him. Jesus promises him “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). Jesus says “You will be ‘with me’ (joining the dots) in Paradise. Jesus keeps saying to us that we who are alienated from ourselves and our Creator, Jesus through the Cross has re-membered us into the eternal story of God. It is such a beautiful thing that Jesus says, that we will never be forgotten. Not because of who we are. We will be remembered, because of “Whose we are”. That is Paradise. My dear friends Jesus promises to Remember you. You are important to him. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49: 15)
At an early age Sam lost his father due to an unfortunate circumstance. There were some people responsible for it. He grew up with hatred and a sense of revenge. But Sam was blessed with a devout mother who had faith in God and abandoned herself and her 4 children in the hands of God. She taught Sam the importance of faith and worship. When Sam became a youth the hatred deepened surrounding the death of his father. The sense of revenge got louder. He was entrapped in the cage of regret, hatred and revenge. It affected his personality. He attended the worship and took part in the Holy Communion but he could never let go of his deep seated wounds. The only comfort was the love and prayer of his mother. Rev K.O. Philipose who was the Vicar of his church introduced him to the love and grace of Lord Jesus through his pastoral care. One day when he took part in the Holy Communion, Sam was moved by the words of Liturgy said by the priest before he administered the Holy Body and Blood. “The Holy Body and Holy Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of body and soul.” When he received the body and blood of Christ he remembers being moved beyond words. This encounter led him to experience the Cross and his fragmented body of hate, revenge, anger and self pity was re-membered into the beautiful promise of Jesus. His hatred had forced him to forget the promise and offer of Jesus. But the Broken Body of Christ and Blood poured out on Calvary saw his life being invaded by Jesus with his wonderful promise of being remembered. It was this encounter that turned his life around where he let go and waited for God to catch him. It was this act of surrender that shaped his course of life. This story is the true story of my friend and mentor Rev Sam who is currently the Vicar of Kuwait Mar Thoma Church.
Leonard Sweet Says the story is of the Thief on the left, the thief on the right and the thief in the middle. What? Jesus also is a thief who robbed from us our shame, our guilt, our regrets and pain. He has robbed us from the world that easily forgets and dismembers us. Jesus is the Holy Thief who re-members us. We are his Beloved and being remembered by him, we are eternally alive in Paradise.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal