Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The people stayed there watching. As for the leaders, they jeered at him with the words, 'He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.' The soldiers mocked him too, coming up to him, offering him vinegar, and saying, 'If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.'
Above him there was an inscription: 'This is the King of the Jews.' One of the criminals hanging there abused him: 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well.' But the other spoke up and rebuked him. 'Have you no fear of God at all?' he said. 'You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' He answered him, 'In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Easter comes where it will. Little moments of heaven appear and grace cold March mornings.
I went to see Len Peterson a few days before Easter. Len is a member of St. Timothy. He has lived in a Naperville nursing home for several years because he has dementia and other health challenges that make it impossible for him to live alone.
Len is a Lutheran pastor who served congregations in the metropolitan Chicago area for more than 40 years. He visited and took Holy Communion to hospital beds and nursing home residents thousands of times in his ministry.
In recent years, it has been my privilege to return the favor. I visit and greet him as ‘Pastor Peterson’ trying to remind him who he is, what he’s done and sing a few old hymns engraved on his Swedish soul.
I go hoping to arouse some sign of recognition that he is still there, hoping I can stir his memory and touch his soul with the songs, the words and the gift I bring in the small brown case I carry into his room.
He showed clear signs of recognition a year ago. Sometimes he would try to sing with me. But such signs faded away during the past 12 months. On this day, he has not eaten for several days. His jaws no longer know what to do with food, and he has lost nearly half his body weight.
His daughters hold his hands and touch his shoulder as I prepare the wafer and pour wine in a tiny chalice. I kneel at his feet and bend down to look straight in his eyes, as his neck and head bend far over, and I fight off tears.
There are few honors greater than kneeling by his wheel chair hoping and praying he will recognize not me but the grace I bring. I want him to know, once more, that he is remembered by the One who does not forget even when we do.
On this day, one more time, my silent prayer is answered. Heaven happens.
His eyes grow wide as I show him the cup. He tries to free his almost immobile hand from his daughter’s grasp to take it. I dip the wafer in the wine and twice touch it to his lips. The second time he bites off a small piece and eats … though he hasn’t eaten in days.
His heart is so indelibly stamped by the grace he extended to others that not even advanced dementia has managed to steal this beauty from his tired soul.
He cannot say a word, but somehow he knows this is ‘for me.’ He remembers what to do, and the gentle grace of our all-loving God breaks through once more.
Our poignant hopes were answered. We wanted him to remember and bless us with the awareness that he knew we were there to bless him.
But on this cold March morning, we received much more. We discovered that we are remembered even when we forget ourselves, our worth, our dignity, our beauty, our joy, … even our name, as I suspect Len long ago forgot his.
We are remembered by a Love that refuses to let us go, a mercy that is new every morning, a compassion that doesn’t lose us when we lose ourselves.
As we watched Len eat and drink the love of Christ, we were gathered into a little community of care around a dying man, and we became whole again, even though our hearts may have been breaking.
For we remembered who we are: Beloved Children of the Love who never forgets, the One who gathers up the broken fragments of our lives and hearts and puts us back together … again and again.
We are always remembered, until the day the Holy Remember-er gathers us up once more … with the likes of Len and all who gone before.
Pr. David L. Miller
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Now they were also leading out two others, criminals, to be executed with him. When they reached the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and the two criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.' Then they cast lots to share out his clothing.
Betrayed, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross, Jesus blesses and saves the world. See and hear this bleeding man bless our broken, bitter world. This is the most important thing.
He uses his final gasps not to curse the awful cruelty that destroys the innocent but to bless and love.
His words are one more luminous sign of the heart of the Father, one more expression of the divine passion to love and save us from ourselves.
Jesus forgives those who torture and kill him. He forgives the world its brutal rejection of the way of peace, the road of compassion that he walked from the Father’s heart into our own.
Forgive it all, Father. Hold it not against them. Release them from the guilt and consequences of their actions, Holy One, for you have no heart to destroy them. You want them to bask in the light of your presence and be lifted into the love you are.
You want them to receive your love and know that you cherish each soul as a beloved and favored child. You want to open their hearts that they may know you as the Loving Source from which they come, the home to which they go and the graceful power that lifts them in every joy, every love, every grace and beauty that decorates their days.
At the beginning of your ministry, Jesus, you said that you came to proclaim liberation to the captive. You are still carrying out this ministry with your final breaths.
Your whole life down to your final words of forgiveness is the great pleading of God to open our hearts and welcome the Love who liberates us from our wounds and fear, our bitterness and cruelty, our hopelessness and despair.
You plead with us to your final breath: Open your heart and welcome the heart of God. His love will save you from yourself.
Pr. David L. Miller