“The Promise of Today”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Good Friday, April 15, 2022
Reading: Luke 23:32-43
This past Monday morning I was out for an early run before heading in to my office, and a little Robin Redbreast (as we always called them when I was growing up) hopped out onto the roadway in front of me. When he realized I was headed straight toward him, he started hopping frantically down the road away from me, before finally veering off to the right and hopping back onto the grass. As he did that, I veered to the left so that he would hopefully feel reassured I wasn’t coming for him, but he still kept one little eye on me until I passed by.
I’ve always found it amusing that a bird sitting on the road, on seeing my car bearing down on her, will run out of the way, her little legs scurrying like crazy to avoid being run over; and I always look at these birds and think, “FLY! You have wings, you know; with death bearing down on you, why don’t you fly out of the way instead of running?”
It’s kind of what people were asking about Jesus as he hung on the cross all those years ago. Hear again what the scripture says as death was bearing down on Jesus:
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…
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
If you have wings, they’re asking, why don’t you fly?
On Good Friday, we come full circle from the beginning of Lent, when we heard of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert with the very same words: “If you are the Son of God…” “…if you want to exercise the authority that you say you have…” It is a temptation to use his divine powers to avoid the painful path that he is on, the path that will lead to his suffering, and to the salvation of all humanity from the power of sin and death.
And here, in this last, crucial moment, Satan is still using the same tactics: If you really are who you say you are, then why don’t you prove it right now to all these people who are taunting you; save yourself; give yourself relief from this agony that they deserve, and you don’t.
Here, at the height of Jesus’ pain as he hangs on the cross – pain far beyond the hunger of a 40-day fast in the desert – Satan again tempts him to abandon the path of love that he had chosen. He knew this path would lead to his death; but he also knew it was the path that would defeat death and lead to the salvation of the world.
The question the people were asking around the cross of Jesus is the same one people have been asking throughout the centuries, and that we still ponder today: is Jesus fully God? What does that mean? Is Jesus fully human? What does that mean? Is he both? What does that mean? How? Could he save himself? If he couldn’t, then how can he save us? If he could and didn’t, then how can he save us? If he has wings, why doesn’t he fly?
At Christmastime, we celebrate with so much joy the incarnation, God’s choice to put on human flesh and walk amongst us. It’s a glorious time! We love thinking about the incarnation when it has to do with a baby in a manger, being held by his loving mother, with lambs watching over him. But on Good Friday, a God who put on human flesh and dwelled among us becomes more complicated. Today the full implications and consequences of the incarnation come into focus. Is he God? Is he a man? Could Jesus have come down from the cross? Could he have saved himself from this suffering?
The answer is “yes,” he could have, but he chose not to. Like the bird who has wings to fly, he chose to walk, even knowing the price he would pay; he chose to limit his own powers. Why doesn’t the bird fly? Well, with the Robin Redbreast, I suspect it has something to do with energy efficiency – flying uses a lot of energy, and for their own wellbeing they conserve that energy unless they really have to use it.
But Jesus wasn’t thinking of his own wellbeing when he chose to limit his divine power and take on our human limitations. He chose to bear the consequences of becoming a man because he chose to put the cure for our mortality, and our eternal relationship with God above his own safety and wellbeing. Can Jesus save us if he didn’t save himself? YES…we are rescued from the power of sin and death precisely because he didn’t save himself. He died so that we could rise again. He walked so that we can fly. He chose to limit himself for the sake of his great love for you.
One of the criminals hanging beside him derided him, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
The other responded, “We have been condemned justly, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus knows he is dying, but he knows that by his death he is making a way for those who love him to be with him in the eternal presence of God. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I hope many of you have been able to take in some of the amazing works of art that are part of the “Crossings” Stations of the Cross, art exhibit in Toronto during Lent. As part of that exhibit, we have a remarkable work of art on our own front lawn. The painting is inspired by this scripture passage and is entitled “The Repentant Thief.” It was painted by Nigerian-Canadian artist Komi Olafimihan, and I urge you to go out and meditate on it at some point this weekend (and check out Komi’s website to see his other incredible work). This painting brings to our awareness how Jesus’ death on the cross was for the suffering people of Africa TODAY – the mothers who wail; the brothers in despair - and it is a poignant reminder to us of how Jesus is with all people “today” in our current circumstances, especially when we are despairing or in pain.
In a devotional booklet produced by Yorkminster Park Baptist Church to accompany this art exhibit, I recently wrote that this scripture passage reminds us (as does Komi’s painting) that even in the midst of despair there is hope for TODAY. The promise to become citizens of the Kingdom of God is not exclusively for some future moment of time, maybe after we die or once we are able to figure things out and get our lives together; but Jesus is reigning in his kingdom TODAY and he remembers each one of us when we reach out to him in faith. TODAY we can live in God’s peace; TODAY, because Jesus chose to walk, we can walk with him. It’s not dependent on what you can do – the criminal did not have the opportunity to be baptized, to offer restitution, to change his life – TODAY you can have faith in Jesus and be saved.
Perhaps you are in a dark or lonely or confusing time in your life and are experiencing despair or hopelessness; perhaps you have been isolated so long that you’re not sure how to get back to some semblance of “normal” life; perhaps you’re dealing with an important and difficult life decision; perhaps you have lost a loved one and life without them feels so empty; perhaps you have lost your job or your business and are struggling to rebuild your life and identity. There are so many things that cause us to feel hopelessness, and it can be tempting to doubt in the power and goodness of God just as the first criminal did.
This passage on Good Friday tells us, though, that there is ONE person who can shine a light of hope into our darkness. TODAY you can fix your eyes on Jesus. TODAY you can receive his love and grace. TODAY you can cling to him and fly with him. TODAY you can live with him in Paradise. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Invitation: Today you can bring all your burdens – your sins, your faults and failures, your resentments and offenses, your fears and worries, your guilt and shame – ALL of your burdens, and lay them down at the foot of the cross. Leave all of them behind and receive the forgiveness and healing and the promise of new life that Jesus gives.