On the Cross: Christ, Criminals, Communion (Mark Schloneger)

Title: On the Cross: Christ, Criminals & Communion
Text: Luke 23:33-43
Date: November 21, 2010
Author: Mark Schloneger
Place: Springdale Mennonite Church

People say that memory is fickle,
and we know well why they say that.
It’s because we so often forget.

A researcher at the University of Oregon has estimated
that people squander more than a month per year
compensating for things that they’ve forgotten.[1]
That seems high to me, but if a researcher said it – with statistics,

it must be true.
We forget things like the location of the car keys.
We forget names and faces and letters and phones and pens
and duct tape and the cheese slicer.

But people say that memory is fickle
not just because of what we don’t remember
but because of what we do remember.
Our memories are unreliable;
we consciously or unconsciously manipulate them for our own purposes.
When we experience something that is upsetting or disturbing –
an experience that could threaten
how we have come to understand ourselves or others –
we do our best to mold it, to form it, to transform it, even to ignore it.
Sometimes, of course, this isn’t a bad thing.
It can be healing when memories of certain traumatic events
fade to gray so they will no longer cause us harm.
But more often, I think,
we manipulate our memories
to avoid looking — truly looking at the truth.

It’s a way for us to go forward as we were
without having to confront the whole truth of what was and what is.

After Jesus was beaten and humiliated,
he was taken to a place called The Skull.
He was nailed to two planks of wood,
and then he was lifted up to die between two criminals.
Jesus Christ, crucified.

As he was hanging there to die,
he prayed for his killers:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus was mocked and cursed.
The religious leaders sneered at him, saying,
“He saved others; let him save himself,
if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers came up to him and dished out anti-communion:
they took the clothes from his body and divided them up;
they offered him a cup of sour wine vinegar.
They said:  “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
One of the criminals dying beside Jesus even joined in the insults:
“Aren’t you the Christ?  Then save yourself and us!”

The fact that Jesus was dying,
the fact that he was bleeding like the criminals beside him,
the fact that he was in agonizing pain
the fact that he did nothing to defend himself,
all of this provided evidence that Jesus wasn’t the one
whom some thought he was.
The crucifixion of Jesus became the proof
his executioners were looking for:
it was evidence that Jesus was utterly unable to save anyone, much less himself.
What they didn’t know was that Jesus’ acceptance of the cross
allowed him to do the very thing they mocked him for not doing.

Perhaps the hardest thing to understand, to accept, to embrace
is that the King who asks for our allegiance,
the Lord who wants our obedience,
and the Messiah who leads our deliverance
could die a horrible death reserved for the worst criminals.

We prefer to remember a Christ that is risen but not crucified.
We prefer to remember an offer of forgiveness
that does not involve our response of repentance.

We prefer to remember God’s grace without Christ’s passion.
Remembering in this way allows us to arrive Just as I am
and to leave Just as I was.
It allows us to avoid the whole truth of what was and what is.
We sanitize the cross of Jesus from the death of Jesus
because we prefer a memory that does not involve our shame.

The church is called by God to remember.
To remember rightly.
We remember those things that the world asks us to forget.

A couple weeks ago,
almost 400,000 secret military field reports from the war in Iraq
were leaked to the public via the website known as WikiLeaks.
This story has been in the news for a while,
and it’s likely that you’ve heard something about it.

It’s quite possible, though, that you haven’t heard
much about what that information contains.
From 2004 to 2009, there were a total of 109,000 fatalities
related to the Iraq War.
Of those, 66,081 were civilians.
Almost 2/3 of all the people who have died from the violence in Iraq
have been civilians.
The United States and British governments had long insisted
that it did not keep records of civilian deaths.
The documents show otherwise.

The field reports also show that Iraqi security forces
systematically used torture, rape, abuse,
and even murder against detainees.
They show that it was American policy not to follow up on these reports.
Sometimes, detainees in American hands were threatened
with being sent to the Iraqis who would do what they could not.

The leaked documents also report the deaths of people with names.
One field report records an incident that occurred
as a man was driving his pregnant sister
to a maternity hospital because she was about to give birth.
In his rush, he either forgot about or became confused
when he was signaled to stop as he came toward a military checkpoint.
Soldiers fired into the car,
and Nahiba Jassim and her cousin Saliha Hassan were killed.
She was carrying a boy.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we’re doing.

My reason sharing this information with you
is not to point fingers, it’s not to cast blame on anyone else.
It’s too easy to do that.
It’s too easy to miss the message
when we don’t like the message
or the way that the message has been communicated.

My reason for sharing this information
is because the church is called to right remembering –
remembering that leads to repentance.
The church is called to remember those things and those people
whom the world would rather forget.
We would like to criticize the messenger, justify the actions, lay blame on others.
We’d like to keep these reports at a distance.
Personally, I’d like to forget the abuse and the torture
and the names Nahiba and Saliha.

But in the end, memory isn’t fickle,
we are.

Right remembering means that we can’t wash our hands,
declare ourselves innocent,
and put this information aside,

like Pontius Pilate.
Right remembering means remembering in a way that is consistent
with what actually is.
Right remembering means repentance in the name of Christ in the way of Christ,
who showed his love for both disciples and enemies all the way to the end.

We are the people who eat at the table inscribed with memory.
And our memory begins with Jesus.

On the cross,
the criminal on the other side of Jesus
couldn’t take the injustice any longer.
He cried out to the criminal who had joined in the insults,
saying, “Don’t you fear God?
For you are under the same sentence.
We have been punished justly –
we are getting what our deeds deserve –
but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And then, the criminal turned to the one between them.
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus last words to another human are an assurance of salvation.
He began his ministry proclaiming good news to the poor
and release to the captives
and he ended it by extending salvation to a rightly convicted criminal.

And all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

God’s healing comes through right remembering.
In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God has remembered us.
The question is whether we will allow God’s memory to heal our memories,
so that the things we experience and remember
will be molded, formed, and transformed
to become a part of God’s healing for the world.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
(Colossians 1:19-20)

Sometimes, our memories lead us astray.
That’s why eat and drink God’s memory of us,
so that God’s memory can be our memory,
so that we can remember rightly and justly,
so that we can remember Jesus.

(Communion)


[1] Joshua Foer, “Remember This,” National Geographic (November 2007).

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