Sermon for Good Friday Tre Ore 2

Sermon for Good Friday Tre Ore 2

(Transcribed by machine 04/07/2024)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
And he said to him, truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
There’s an anonymous poem from the ancient church,
popular among Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Middle East,
that tries to tease out the magnitude of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross
by imagining the thief walking right up to the entrance of the Garden of Eden
and being confronted by the cherub that God stationed to guard the garden’s
entrance. The poem develops as this contentious dialogue between the angel
who is ordered by God not to let humanity enter,
and the thief who was just promised
he could enter into paradise.
I want us to imagine with these ancient Christians
for a few moments how the thief might explain the gospel
to the cherub and convince him how it is that he,
who was just legitimately and justly executed,
can now enter the place from which humanity was expelled.
First, we can picture the cherub astonished
at the boldness of the thief.
He grabs him, holds out his flaming sword,
and says, what are you doing here?
Are you lost?
This is no place for a thief.
And the thief doesn’t deny who he is.
You’re right, I am a thief.
But I cried out for mercy, and your Lord heard my prayer.
The cherub repeats himself.
Adam stretched out his hand and stole from the tree and was driven out.
You cannot steal your way back into here, you’re a thief.
The thief responds, I’m not stealing my way into here.
The stealing hands of humanity, my Lord has stretched out
on the tree for all my sins.
The cherub says, I don’t think you understand.
He bends down, points at the ground.
Look, here are the footsteps of Adam and Eve.
They left the garden, and I’ve been stationed here by God to make sure they don’t come back.
The thief says, I don’t think you understand.
Look here, the footsteps of the good shepherd who’s gone out after me, his lost sheep.
Cherub says, you have a great debt.
The thief responds, my debt is paid, nailed to the cross, for all in heaven and on earth
to see.
The cherub says, look, you are unclean, and this garden is for the pure.
The thief says, his blood has made me pure.
Do you not fear my flaming sword, the cherub asks?
Why should I fear, the thief responds. The spear has pierced the side of my Lord,
and so your blade is blunted. Water and blood have come out from his side, and so
your flames are extinguished. As we see, at each point of the conversation so far,
the cherub has some reason to prevent the thief from coming into the garden.
heaven. But at each step of the way, even if the cherub has good reasons and quotes
the Bible, the thief responds with how Christ has destroyed all division, removed each obstacle
that stands between heaven and earth, between sinner and God, and how God has unbarred the
gates of paradise.
The turning point, and the dialogue comes at last, when the thief shows the sign of
the cross, the tree of life itself, and presents a royal missive written in
Christ’s own blood, the fruit that hangs from the tree of life, the poem says,
which reads, truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. At the sign
of the cross and at the words of Jesus, the cherub lets go of the blade, stands
in awe, and intones a beautiful hymn praising God for the great compassion
shown towards mankind, and he welcomes the thief and all sinners who repent
into the joys of paradise. Now of course the conclusion to this poem is how
things really are. The angels are not waiting to interrogate us when we die.
They rejoice at our repentance. They praise God for his goodness, his love,
and his compassion that he’s shown toward us. But this back-and-forth
dialogue between the cherub and the thief helps to illustrate what the
suffering and death of Jesus has accomplished, as well as the importance
both of the thief’s prayer and the power of Jesus’ words and his promise from the
cross. This is what I want you to take away from the thief’s prayer. There are
many reasons to think paradise is not for you. The commandments you have broken
with your hands, your heart, and your minds. Each and every transgression is a
reason to be cast away.
You don’t belong in paradise.
You’re tainted, stained, sinful.
And the thief on the cross never denies this.
And so we should learn from him.
When he dies on the cross, he acknowledges he is guilty.
And he turns away from himself and looks to Jesus,
the only one who is innocent.
Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
when your conscience accuses you,
when your sins burden your heart,
when the devil torments you
and holds up all the wrong you’ve ever done,
these are the words to keep close to your lips.
Don’t hide your sins, don’t cover them up,
don’t presume or pretend you’re good enough to enter.
Turn to the Lord and pray with this thief,
Lord, remember me, for Jesus is merciful
And there’s nothing he wants more than to forgive your sins and for you to be with him
in paradise, today and forever.
Finally, beloved, behold the power of Christ’s words and the power of the cross.
In the face of all doubt, when those sins hang before your eyes, look to Christ, the
tree of life.
He came for you.
His words to the thief are powerful and his words to the thief are for you. Today
you will be with me in paradise. At these words the angels rejoice and the
demons shriek in terror. Eternal life is to be with Christ because where Christ
is, there is the kingdom and there is paradise. And he opens the kingdom to you.
He unbars the gates of paradise and bids you to be with him today. Notice this
immediacy in his words. Today, this is the refuge for sinners. Today, the shelter
for the oppressed. Today, no sin is greater than the forgiveness Christ won
for you on the cross. No stain cannot be washed with his blood, and the blood of
God weighs far more than the sins of the world, and it washes you clean. Therefore,
O Christ, with the angels, with the thief who died on the cross, and with all those
sinners who have entered paradise, we praise you, for you have gone after those
who have been driven from the garden and opened paradise to all. We praise you, O
God made man, at whose word the thief entered into the garden of Eden. We
praise you, O Savior in our flesh, who has given new hope to Adam and to all his
offspring. We praise you, O King who reigns from the tree of life, who delights
in us sinners. Remember us, Lord, in your kingdom. In the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.