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Do Lord, Do Remember Me!

by Frank Schaefer

based on Luke 23:33-43

This coming week we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We don't really have anything comparable to it in Germany. I used to work for campus security during my college days, and I had my colleagues almost kiss my feet when I volunteered to work on Thanksgiving Day. We soon discovered how big this Day is in North America!!. Even McDonalds is closed on that day--I think that only happens on two days in the year--Christmas and Thanksgiving! But I tell you, we really learned to appreciate Thanksgiving Day even though our extended family is not here to celebrate it with us. Most of all I like the food: the gold-brown roasted turkey, sweet potatoes and..hmm... I’ve got to stop this, because my mouth is already getting watery. Let me just say that if I had to choose between a cream cheese pumpkin pie and a black forest cake--I don't know what I'd go for!!

So today we come together with the Thanksgiving holiday and Advent in the air. On first glance today seems to be one of those Sundays overshadowed by greater days that lie ahead. But when I looked at the church calendar, I realized that my initial impression was wrong. Don't call the celebrations off yet--today is Christ the King Sunday!! I would like for you to join me on an imaginary journey back to my childhood days in Germany:

The year is 1968 in the small town of Alzey, Germany. All of the old church buildings in town are decorated with white garlands and drapes. A procession slowly makes its way through the winding and narrow streets. Traffic has been rerouted that morning. Excitement is in the air, children dressed in white robes leading the procession, are singing: "Macht hoch die Tür, die Tor macht weit..." There are trumpets and fanfares, songs and shouts. It is a royal procession to announce the arrival of Christ, the King, in Alzey.

I'm not sure whether Christ-the-King Sunday is so big in some parts of Germany in order to make up for the missing Thanksgiving holiday, or to sneak in Advent just a little early. I sure know though that we should not miss out on this event of festive celebration. And so we celebrate this morning, in our own way: we worship King Jesus, crown him with many crowns by song and testimony, and hail him, welcome him in our midst. And then we read about the two men who were crucified, one to the left and the other to the right of our Lord.

And suddenly, we enter into the picture of Christ's Kingdom. The setting is Calgary (the scull hill), almost 2000 years ago. The occasion: the darkest moment in the history of humankind! Christ crucified. Yet, as all the children of the resurrection know, God takes the darkest moment in human history and turns it into the biggest triumph for humanity. It is the moment when the Christ takes away the sins of the world. It is the moment when God the Father takes the crown of thorns put on His son by human hands and replaces it with a crown of glory. That’s what we celebrated this morning when we sung the old hymn: Crown Him With Many Crowns.”

And in the middle of this dark and yet triumphant hour, we find humanity represented by the repentant and by the unrepentant thief. The unrepentant one mocks Jesus expressing his unbelief: "If you are the Messiah, how come you can't help yourself and us?" This soul represents the dark side within every one of us. The side that rebels against God's unconditional love; the side that doesn’t want to accept Christ’s Kingship in our lives.

And then, there is the other thief. He represents the other side within us, the one that reaches out to Jesus with a repentant heart. The side that knows that accepting Christ as our Lord is the best thing we could ever do for ourselves. Listen to the words of the repentant thief once again: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom!"

"Remember me" is what Abraham essentially said to God when he was waiting for the child of promise. "Remember us in our distress" was the cry of the Hebrew slaves, laboring under cruel and inhumane conditions for pharaoh Ramses II. "How long, o God, cries the Psalmist, will you forget us forever?" Remember your exiled people by the rivers of Babylon.

"Remember me, Lord" is what we pray too at times when it seems darkest; when the world seems to come down on us, when nobody seems to care any longer. In those moments God becomes our last resort, our hope in the midst of terror. Lord Jesus, remember our friends and loved ones" we pray. As we look around this morning and recognize our brothers and sisters sitting in the pew behind or before us, we remember the times when we shared a prayer with them (mention a few examples).

Why are we so afraid that God might forget? Does God ever forget us? Do we really have to remind God? I suspect it is more likely that you and I forget, not God. We are the ones who forget about our neighbor's needs, and at times we even forget about God. These are the moments when the unrepentant thief comes alive in us. Only after we remember once again the goodness and love of Christ, the king, do we pray "Lord Jesus, remember me."

The good news is that King Jesus does not forget any of us--ever! God's arms are stretched out wide and his invitation is for all of us who remember Christ, the King, just like the repentant thief. "Truly, I tell you," says King Jesus, "today you will be with me in paradise." "Today? You mean today after I die?". Not even death will stop King Jesus from remembering you and me. The royal invitation stands fast.

Today, let us remember Jesus. Let us salute the King of Kings in our midst. Let us remember to give to Christ what is due Him: our hearts and lives. May we approach God today with a repentant heart. And having been accepted by God (once again) and having been cleansed from all sin, let us lift our voices. Let us join in the chorus of millions of believers, saints, and angels. Let us sing songs of praise in honor to our Majesty the King. Amen. (Closing hymn: “Majesty”).