It is Friday. The volatile financial markets have closed for the week. Some schools have canceled for the rest of the school year. People are preparing to celebrate this weekend in new ways. Some of my extended family will be doing a “Family Reunion” over video. My parents, my sister’s family and my family who are all separated by 6-7 minutes will be enjoying the same meal, but in three separate locations as we continue to follow the stay at home, social distancing measures in place.
While Sunday is the culmination of our Easter celebration, Friday is the necessary, but greatest injustice in human history. God in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, had been betrayed, denied, mocked, ridiculed, physically beaten and tortured, spit upon and paid the greatest insult of dying like a common criminal. The crosses we wear around our necks, shiny and smooth are not what met Christ. The cross was rough and splintered - a sign of Roman power, intimidation and domination. Crosses littered the roadsides in different areas of Roman conquest, as the Romans doled out punishment to anyone who dared to cross them, or were perceived to. As Christ, badly beaten, bloody and bruised staggered to Golgotha, not even able to carry his cross, he collapsed to the ground. He was grabbed by the soldiers and slammed down on the cross with the torn flesh on his back rubbing against the splintered, rough wood. His arms were stretched as far as the soldiers could pull and large blunt nails were hammered in, piercing the flesh and crushing the bones. His feet, one stacked on the other, were thrust with another nail until it, like the others, could be seen breaking through on the other side of the wood. A sign was placed above his head to mock him that read, “King of the Jews.” Then, as the cross is lifted and dropped into a pre-dug hole, the bottom of the cross slamming into the ground and Jesus, with nothing holding him up but three large nails, feels a surge of new pain race through his body. Yet, the worst is still to come for Jesus.
As all of this is happening, two others, condemned to die by crucifixion are raised beside Jesus. For everyone there, this was not a special event, this was simply what happened to criminals. This was not a major event in the history of the world at that time. As the criminals were raised and writhed in pain, one of the men joined in mocking Jesus - hurling insults at him, telling him if he was so powerful, why didn’t he just get down. The man to Jesus’ other side, though, rebuked the mockery. He said Jesus had done nothing wrong, he didn’t deserve to be punished like they did. He started to realize this was no ordinary innocent man. He understood in that moment that he was in the presence of God, and though he knew his own guilt, said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Try to imagine in that moment, what that man must have felt - guilt, fear, regret, but he was emboldened to say “Remember me.”
Isn’t that what we want to say right now, whether for ourselves, or on behalf of others, ‘Lord, remember me.’ We see people suffering and dying all over the world. Perhaps our eyes are being opened to the suffering of the most vulnerable in society as we first hand experience loss, fear and unsettling insecurity and lack of control. This Friday is a day to remember to lament. It is a day to cry out to God, just as is done in the Psalms and share the burden of fear, loss and vulnerability, to ask how long and why. It is our chance to say, Lord remember me. While we don’t have the immediate answers to our questions, heartache and concerns that we want, we do see what we have to look forward to through Jesus’ response on the cross. In the middle of the excruciating pain - taking on the sin and ugliness of humanity, Jesus draws the strength to respond to this man on the verge of death, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” All it took was “Remember me” and the life saving mercy and grace was abundantly offered.
As we live in these moments, let’s pray collectively “remember US”. There are many around the world, some of which we have the blessing to work with, that don't see an end in sight in the weeks or months ahead. The emergency, insecurity and fear don’t end with COVID-19, it will simply be one less thing on the ever growing list of many to overcome.
Lord, remember us, this day, as we wait for the coming Sunday - the resurrection and redemption.