Today we come to the end of the year – the final day in what is called the liturgical year – as we celebrate the great feast of Christ the King. But the Gospel today helps us to keep our eyes focused very sharply on what Jesus as King is really going to mean and look like.
The scene that is presented to us is that simultaneously dark, dreadful and yet glorious day of the crucifixion of Jesus presented in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. The cross was a terrible symbol of human cruelty and destruction that was the pride of the Roman Empire. The irony that it is on the cross that Jesus truly became their King is not lost on the early church. They knew all the prophecies and the rich scriptural heritage that had remembered that King David – that man after God’s own heart, and the truest and greatest of the kings of Israel had been a mere shepherd boy.
So it is on the Cross that Jesus bears the sins of all the sheep in his care. He also bears the many taunts and jeers of the criminals and soldiers who mercilessly mock and abuse him.
It is at this point that St Luke offers a unique remembrance. One of the criminals chooses not to join the rest of the crowd, but comes to the defense of Jesus, reminding the others that he deserved the punishment that he received, but Jesus has done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve this treatment. He then cries out in words that have been often repeated and often sung, as he addresses this great shepherd King with shocking familiarity: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The words remain an invitation to all of us to do the same. To approach the great and holy King Jesus with equally shocking familiarity and cry out to him with our deepest and most personal needs. For that is all it takes to receive the same reassurance as the good criminal received: “Indeed, I promise you – today you will be with me in paradise.”
Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (9’04”) – on first Holy Communion weekend with 245 candidates at six Masses
Sunday 34, Year C. Luke 23:35-43