Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 42-43)
I really did have every intention of getting this entry up on Good Friday, but I ended up having to work. Then I worked on Saturday, then I was liturgist at church on Sunday, and just pretty much collapsed when I got home Sunday afternoon. I’m still a little weak from my 2+ week bout with the flu, so I’m working on getting back to full strength in body, mind, and blog!
When we think of Kings (or Queens) being crowned we think of stately ceremonies, crowds of adoring people, the king being carried around in a carriage or a really nice car, and crowns of precious metals adorned with jewels. We think of the new king in stately garments gratefully acknowledging the people. There’s something almost…romantic about it.
This is the kind of thing that the disciples thought was going to happen when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The events of Palm Sunday, with it’s adoring crowds, waving branches, and joyful songs probably did nothing to dispel that image either. But then, on Thursday, things got weird when Jesus was arrested, and then on Friday, well, Friday was probably the darkest day in the lives of the disciples.
They must have thought: surely there’s been some mistake. Surely, any minute now, Jesus will reveal who he is in all his power. That will show them! He’ll be set free and we’ll be vindicated!
By three o’clock Friday afternoon though, it was clear that none of that was going to happen. Most of the remaining 11 disciples were in hiding. Scripture only mentions that John was brave enough to stand at the foot of the cross, holding Mary, Jesus’ mother, in his arms as she watched her son die slowly and painfully. What must John have thought as he stared at Jesus up on that cross? Just days earlier John and his brother James had asked Jesus to allow one of them on his right and one of them on his left when he entered his power, his kingdom. Now, he looked at the dying body of his friend and on his left and right sides were hung two thieves, two common criminals. Do you think John realized what he had asked for at that point?
One of the two thieves hurled curses at Jesus, telling him to prove that he was who he said he was and save himself, and them too, conveniently. The other thief told him to pipe down, that they had gotten what they deserved, and that Jesus had done nothing wrong and was dying unjustly. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He clearly believed Jesus was a king, and he was right.
I imagine Jesus mustering some of the last strength in his body as he looks over at the thief and says, “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.” What must John have thought hearing that? Everything seemed to have gone sideways and here was Jesus, dying, promising his kingdom to a common thief! I’m sure it was food for thought.
What the thief realized at that point was something that would only become clear to the disciples later on: Jesus was indeed taking his place as king, just in a totally different and paradoxical way then they expected. The paradox of Good Friday is this: Jesus becomes King not through having a large, grand ceremony, but by dying next to two dirty criminals.
There were no crowds of adoring people. Instead the crowds in the praetorium chanted for him to be crucified, and cheered when he was taken away. They beat him, spit on him, and humiliated him as he bore his cross. That’s right, there was no carriage or nice car to carry the king, he carried the instrument of his own death up the Way of Sorrows and Suffering. He was not crowned with a crown of gold inlaid with jewels, but with a woven crown of thorns that dug into his brow. He was not raised up on a beautiful throne but on a bloody, wooden cross. In the end he did not wave to his loving public, he prayed and asked the Father to forgive them because they didn’t realize what they were doing.
Then he bowed his head and made not a war cry, but something that was a statement of victory nonetheless. He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
Jesus became King when he died.
He won when he died. He conquered not the Roman legions but something immensely more terrible and frightening: sin and death. Neither sin nor the grave would hold sway anymore over the people of God.
The earth shook. The sky became black as the night. The veil in the temple that separated the people from the Holy of Holies and from God himself was torn in two.
And Jesus became king.
Then, 3 days, later, the King would bring hope from death.