Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise"

Jesus’ Seven Last Words, sayings offered from the cross, may serve as guidance for the spiritual life. You are invited to contemplate each saying during the seven Wednesdays of Lent and Holy Week.

“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,” sings the TaizĂ© chant. I often sing it as I drive to events in which this introvert is called upon to be an extrovert, this writer expected to speak or lead or counsel. It calms me, but it also reminds me who and what my work is all about. I believe I’m better at “selling” Jesus than myself. And God knows I have more inspiration to do so.

Of course “Jesus, remember me etc.” are the words of the “good” criminal who challenges the one who mocks Jesus as all three are crucified together. Jesus responds, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a comfort to hear this straight from Jesus!

But none of us have to be on a cross to hear these words. We could just be having a bad day. We could even be having a good day. Paradise is available in the here and now, not just the sky by and by.

“I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,” the writer of Revelation  hears Jesus saying. This is a mystic’s vision. This was also the experience of everyday disciples on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion.

Theologian Karl Rahner famously said that the Christian of the future will need to be a mystic. Being a mystic, then, is not “above our pay grade.”

To see beyond Jesus’ suffering, just as to see beyond our own, a hopeful vision is required. For the early Christians, that hopeful vision was to view Jesus’ sacrifice replacing the need for animal sacrifice, just as child sacrifice was replaced by animal sacrifice in the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Though these visions may not inspire us today, both could be considered theological advances of their eras. I explained this in detail in Coming Out as Sacrament. I also explained that both Roman and Jewish legal cultures of Jesus’ time expected a transgressor to offer some kind of expiation or sacrifice to make things right. This is the context for the understanding that Jesus served as that expiation.

Julian of Norwich believed that sin and evil had no “essence,” and that, rather than blaming us for sin, God pitied us for the pain it causes us.

Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned the crucifixion arousing in us that which at-ones us with God: compassion. Reading Julian I realize that the cross is equally an emblem of God’s compassion.

Contemplating a crucifix, she observes, “Thus I saw how Christ has compassion for us because of sin.” Translator Father John-Julian paraphrases Julian, “Christ en-joys the Passion, that is, submerges it in and converts it into joy.”

The cross represents a God who is sacrificially forgiving in reconciling the world.

Last week this blog reflected on Jesus’ first words from the cross, according to tradition, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

In the case of the one crucified alongside Jesus asking to be remembered, Jesus goes beyond forgiveness to welcome him into his kingdom. That can happen for each of us in this moment. And how differently we will live, now that we are in paradise.

For those who would like daily readings for this week of Lent, click here and scroll down to the end of “Spiritual Stretching.”

I will be speaking this coming Sunday, Mar. 1, at the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church 11 a.m. service in Dahlonega, GA, followed by a free workshop on the mystic Evelyn Underhill, “Becoming What We Behold.”

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  1. ahh. Now that i am in paradise!! I know, i know. But, but...I get it. This story of a man called Jesus shows me how it can be realized. But, i also have to re-conceptualize what "paradise" is. eh?
    I like very much that "God" does not "blame us" for sin but pities us for the pain it causes. I am thinking "sin" in this case to be "the illusion that we are separated from all and others"---by our brief privilege to be aware, to see, to have stepped out to look at, that of which we are really ONE, and FALL OUT OF and into sin of thinking we are seperate. arrggghhh it is difficult to put into words.

  2. Chris, I especially appreciate the way you connect mysticism and compassion. God who loves us and wants to be known by us meets us through divine compassion in the suffering and risen Christ. Jesus' promise to his fellow sufferer on the cross puts that divine compassion on graphic display. God also invites us to the mystical experience of encountering Christ through our compassionate relationship with "the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46). I suspect the thief experienced that in his moment of insight as he spoke on Jesus' behalf.

  3. Often I receive comments directly to my e-mail, so I have just started asking folk if I may post them here. Here's one from yesterday. Thanks all who comment!

    Beautiful words, Chris, both yours and this chant's. You speak such wisdom, and this chant never fails to bring a few tears (happy ones actually) to my eyes. How often I see myself as the "good" (or not so good, truth be told) thief. But knowing in the depth of my being that I'm loved and forgiven no matter what is paradise. Thanks for the eloquent reminder. Your words are always a blessing, and you are truly a light of Christ, dear friend.