I recently came across an article that featured e-mails from soldiers in war zones to family members back home.
The one that touched me the most was sent by Sgt. First Class Linda Ann Tarango-Griess to her cousin on his wedding day. Linda would be killed less than two months later.
She writes: “I never thought I would see the day that you would settle down and get married, but here you
are. You couldn’t have picked a more wonderful person. She is a very sweet, very giving, and most important of all, she loves you. Be good to her.
“I’m sorry I can’t be there to share your day. But I am here in hopes that one day these people will have the chance to be as happy as you are.
“Just know that I am with you today. Just close your eyes, place your hand over your heart and you will feel me there. Today you will be with me.”
Today you will be with me. Where does someone get the ability to see beyond her own situation in a war zone and direct her thoughts, her hopes and her love to someone else? To be able to press the life of someone else to their heart?
It’s grace! Grace, pure and simple. And when you see or hear or experience grace, it changes you. It challenges you. It gives you hope. The grace of that e-mail will sustain that cousin for the rest of his life. A God Provide
In the last moment of his life upon the cross, Jesus looks at the person being executed next to him. It is grace that enables Jesus to press that man to his heart and say, “It’s going to be alright.”
We might find this Gospel passage odd for today, the Feast of Christ the King (Luke 23:35-43). We might have chosen something more triumphant, like the resurrection or thrilling, like the raising of Lazarus. But this is the right passage. For it is about the triumph of love.
It is about the thrilling mercy of God at our worst hour. It is why we believe in Jesus. The moment should change us, challenge us, give us life and sustain us for the rest of our lives.
Here are 3 simple words from today’s Gospel to place in your heart:
TODAY Luke used the word today deliberately in his Gospel. At Christmas we say, “Today a Savior is born in the city of David.” As Jesus begins his public life, he rolls up the scroll in the synagogue and says, “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
When Jesus goes to the house of Zacchaeus, he says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Good Thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” What Jesus is saying is: God does not have office hours! God is not waiting for you to be nicer, to pray more, to sin less. The message of Jesus is that God is loving you right now – TODAY!
A second word that I want you to hold in your heart is the word REMEMBER. There is something very touching about the word remember. “Remember me!” It is the plea, the cry of every person. “Remember me!” None of us wants to be forgotten. Maybe when we’ve sinned or failed or made mistakes – we feel like we are nobody.
The message of Jesus is that there is nothing you can do that he would walk away from you, hit the delete key, or forget you. That’s the kind of stuff we do to each other. That’s why we’re not the Savior. That’s why Jesus IS the Savior.
I believe that down deep in my heart, that dying on the cross, Jesus remembered the other thief as well – the one that was filled with anger and bitterness. That’s the triumph of love!
The third word I want you to hold in your heart is PARADISE. The dictionary says the word paradise can refer to one of three things: 1. The Garden of Eden, 2. Heaven, or 3. Any place or state of mind where there is great happiness.
I strongly believe that it was the third definition that Jesus lived his entire life. Happiness for Jesus was this inner sense that no matter what happens, it is going to be alright.
Paradise was not a prize. Paradise was not something that happens after you die. Paul tells the Colossians that Jesus has come so that we will live in the light now. So every time you think of someone else with positive and loving thoughts, that is paradise. Every time you forgive someone, that is paradise. Every time you stop your busyness and listen to someone, that’s paradise.
When I was first ordained, a father and a son in the parish were delivering Christmas presents to a very poor family. The father choked back tears as they left the poor family. He was overwhelmed by what he saw and by what he and his son were doing. He wondered about his teen-aged son who said nothing. What was he thinking or feeling?
In the car on the way home the son looked out of the car window and exclaimed, “Wow, Dad, look at that Bentley! Would I love to have that!” The father kept his disappointment inside.
Years later the family was discussing memorable Christmases. The son who was now grown said, “I will never forget when we delivered those presents to the family who had nothing for Christmas!” TODAY. REMEMBER. PARADISE.