This morning we celebrate a Risen Saviour .. a resurrection hope for all .. a light in an otherwise dark world. We encounter Christ in the words and songs of those who have met a man risen from the dead. But it struck me during our service of Stations of the Cross on Good Friday that this encounter is not where most meet Jesus.
For some I imagine that their encounter with Jesus never moves beyond the child in the manger of the Christmas story. Happy to encounter a rather sweet and poetic Jesus, but a silent Jesus of the carols Away in a Manger ‘no crying he makes’ , or Jesus of a Silent Night left peaceful and without stirring either himself or indeed us. There are those that leave Jesus silent and without any demands .. most though accept that even the most normal newborn baby was never going to engage with the world without some kind of cries for attention or interaction.
So those who accept the reality and not the Christmas Card version of a boy born to a very young mother are called to move on in their encounter with Jesus. Perhaps to learn about his ministry and miracles. And in these to face the question of what these miracles might mean. For a number these remain just stories .. impossible to be true because they conflict with our experience of the world in which we live. As though anything could be different to what we know or feel about the world. But some journey on inclined to look tot the message behind such stories. A message of liberation and acceptance and healing and most of all love. The kind of themes which in reality see miracles take place in our world everyday. How miraculous acts of love and acceptance and forgiveness that take place in day to day life .. and which lead us to journey further still with Jesus into Jerusalem and Holy Week.
And so for those who have been prepared to engage with the cries Jesus makes for our attention those who have looked beyond the unreasonable nature of the miracles to the transforming power of their message we find ourselves at the Cross on Good Friday. A place where the entire world will at some point find themselves the Bible tells us. And we find the entire human race personified, represented by two thieves who hang either side of the cross of Jesus. On Good Friday I was struck that this is where most of us still encounter Jesus. Hanging alongside Jesus in our own suffering and despair and heartache and hope and pain. We hang alongside him as we look at the world and wonder why the miraculous healing power of this young prophet has not transformed things as we wanted. We still suffer.
And the world is divided between those who look at Jesus then look at our situation and whose cry rings out with the first thief hurling insults and saying …
“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
In these cries we reveal our own self-centredness .. our own lack of faith .. our own desperate attempts to be freed from the judgement that has rightly been pronounced upon us. Guilty.
But there are those too whose encounter of suffering alongside Jesus leads to another response .. with the penitent thief we sigh under the wait of our pain and suffering
“Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
In the worlds encounter with Christ on the cross we are divided with the two thieves. Having witnessed his birth and life we face Christs death with words of either despair or acceptance of his innocence and our brokenness. We see the suffering in our world today and either cry out to God .. why have you not fixed it .. rather than saying sorry for our part in its agony.
Which thief do you join this morning. This is the question the Christmas baby and the miraculous prophet came to ask us. It what the man on the cross demands of the world. Where do you stand?
Do you, with the last bits of strength you have, raise your head from your suffering to blame Jesus for his lack of power to save? Or do you in the gifts of breath you still have accept your part in the suffering of this world? Who do you side with when you encounter Jesus on the cross?
For those who have followed Jesus to the cross and are ready to accept this path of shared suffering Jesus says ..
‘Today you will be with me in paradise’
Not mere words. Not an empty promise or deferred hope. Today .. this morning .. you will be with me in paradise. For in the acknowledgement of our part in our own suffering, in Christs suffering, in the worlds suffering .. in the acknowledgement of this is the beginning of freedom, and joy and peace .. aren’t these the qualities of paradise regained. For in accepting our own part in the brokenness of the world we hear the words ‘’ Forgive them Father .. they know not what they do’
We find forgiveness from the cross and so in our garden of tears we see a resurrected Saviour no longer on the cross but revived and resuscitated .. alive again and here with us in the joy and peace of Easter. The encounter sought with us by our Father in heaven achieved through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His son. Let us not leave Jesus in the manger, or in the wilderness of Galilee, or in the Temple, let us journey with him to the cross, and then with the penitent thief let us journey beyond death to resurrection and eternal life!