— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
Christ the King Sunday
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? 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 have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I’d made a mess of my life. One mistake after another. Of course, I did not see it that way then. Whenever things would go wrong for me it was not my fault; someone else was to blame. In those days of my earthly life the driving force behind all that I did was simply – What was in it for me? I had to satisfy my appetites, my cravings, my jealousies of those with more than I had. I spent my life training my eyes in the direction of seeing ways to take things that I wanted without regard to the pain my actions would bring to others. Over and over again I took what was not mine and I enjoyed the taking. The world, as I understood it then, was a battlefield of selfish interests with the prizes going to the cunning and clever. The more you could take without paying a price the more you were winning, the more you were demonstrating your fitness for survival. Life was, for me back then, a simple but thrilling game of seek and hide. I was a thief.
I almost died a victim of my own selfishness, a victim of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of a brutal system of punishment. Without question I was guilty; the punishment, however, did not fit the crime. Crucifixion for being a thief was unjust but the punishment was not unusual. Thieves were regularly hung upon a cross – at least the thieves like me. The thieves of government and those with the power of religious position found ways to be avoid my fate.
The truth of my life was that I was guilty. In fact, I was repeat offender. The last time … of course it was the last … I was caught and brought to a place called “The Skull” for my punishment to be displayed to the masses. I had seen it before. I had looked up on that barren hill and seen others planted on stakes to die. Seeing those deaths did not deter me. I just figured those poor souls were not as smart as I; so, there I was, another thief on a cross destined to die and destined to be remembered by no one. The realization that no one would remember me hit me hard. I was going to be forgotten.
I thought then that it was all bad luck. My arrest, my brief trial, my sentence to death on a cross. From the perspective I now enjoy I realize my death was an awakening of sorts. I know now I died in the right place and at the time that would open for me a new world, a paradise, not of my own making, a paradise not of my own sly taking, a paradise not of my own grasping. I know now there was a different way to live.
There are things I now know about the man next to me on that gruesome hill. He was in the center of the three of us. I had not heard of him until that day. I didn’t know his name until I heard a woman cry out his name in grief; I think it was his mother. I didn’t know any of the things that people had said of him. I can say now from the vantage point of my present place that he was in the center of our crucifixion and more importantly the center of all of history.
From this vantage point of eternity where I now reside I now know that for his brief life the One at the center embodied wisdom and strength in dealing with temptation in the desert; he sparred with the religious authorities and left them stammering in the face of his teachings; he cast out evil spirits. I know now that he was transfigured on a mountaintop in front of a small group of his followers – I think this was to prepare them for what he and I went through on “The Skull.” I know now of his teachings on compassion and love. I know now of the many ways he healed the sick. And, I know now that just a few days before he and I shared the road of sufferings and shame, he had a glorious entry into Jerusalem where people sang hosannas to a name I know now is holy. His name was and is … Jesus.
With the clear-eyed vision I have now in this place beyond my earthly life, I know that back then I was blind. If I had seen him any earlier, if I had seen him when he was popular and crowds were gathered around him to see the things that he could do and hear the things he would say, I would not have seen him for what he truly was. If I had seen him before I saw him carrying the cross, I would have taken him to be just a man clever at garnering power for his personal position in the cut-throat world. I would have seen him as another religious hypocrite trying to build a following that would allow him to reside in the protection of the prominent places in the Temple. I would not have had eyes to see that he was pointing to a different reality than the winners take the spoils world that I saw.
As I have tried to indicate in this report, if that is what this is, from the earthly side of eternity, I saw the world only in terms of power for selfish gain. The religious leaders and the Roman governors had lots of that power and it came down on me as their way of protecting what they had. It came down on the One next to me as well. He was a threat to the selfish power because his power was of another sort. They thought they could bury it. They were wrong. I started to see it on the day we both died.
Here’s the vision that started to come to me. As this Holy One, blessed be his name, was being derided, as people, powerful people, soldiers, and ordinary onlookers scoffed at him and mocked him, I stared into the eyes of this One who was given the name “King of the Jews” and saw a deeper reality than anything I had known before. It was as if in his eyes a person could see a fissure in time and space that revealed the heartbeat of the universe. What I began to see in this Holy One’s eyes was a heartbeat of truth and power, and it was different than anything I had ever seen before. His truth and power, even in pain, emanated from love and forgiveness. I heard him and saw him pray for those murdering him; he said – Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
This Holy One who was stripped of all worldly possessions and all worldly authority; this Holy One who was physically broken before any who cared to see; this Holy One who was murdered – well, I started to see that he had not veered from his truth or lost his power at all. His power and dignity and truth was beyond the reach of any one to take it away; yet, the Holy One’s power was there to be received by anyone with eyes to see. I started to take it into me. I started to feel in my spirit His spirit, and I began to know that my life was not lost. I was being reborn into a new realm of reality, the deepest reality. The Holy One’s truth and power was the heartbeat of the eternal love of the Creator, and that truth and power would always flow like a river of cleansing water even as my earthly life and the Holy One’s earthly life would ebb away.
I saw this on the cross as I was dying next to him; I saw that life was more than what I thought it was. Somehow in his eyes I saw eternity. I said to him “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And glory be, he said to me – “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
He was good to his Word.
I have been given a new name
here in this place called Paradise.
My old life is gone and a new life has begun.
My name here is Zachariah –
which the angels tell me in the Hebrew language means –
I was not forgotten as I was sure I would be.
I was remembered,
and I shall forever sing of the blessedness
of being remembered by Jesus,
the King of Love, Forgiveness, and Truth.
Hosanna in the highest!