It is an answer that most of the baby boomers will know by heart. In gym class, at work, in school – the answers are as varied as the ones giving them. As we observed the 50th anniversary of that Nov. 22 day, there is still a clarity to people’s memories – so much so that sociologists call moments like these “Generation Defining moments.” Something was etched forever into the collective memory of all who lived through that Dallas day. You always remembered where you were when you heard. This week, the media have taken us back to that November day, and invited us to remember where we were and how Kennedy died, but more so, what we have become because of that day.
Here is the uncomfortable question that flows from the timing of that event to today’s feast. Do you remember where you were when you last committed your life to serving Christ the King with the same clarity? And in the same way that media has done with Kennedy’s death, our readings have invited us to remember, not just where and how Jesus died, but what WE have become because of that day.
Of the three gospels the church chose for this feast day, only today’s from Luke’s gospel depicts Jesus’ decisive act of Kingship happening upon the cross. And it has everything to do with what we as a nation are about in commemorating Kennedy’s assassination: Remembering.
Many of us, like the thief on the one side of Jesus, pray that God has selective memory. “Save yourself and us. God forbid that you remember what I have done, how it has all gone wrong, how I am justly condemned to die – just remember that you have the power to get me out of this place.” That is the kind of memory that most of us want God to have – for God only to remember that he has the power to rescue us from trouble *snap* just like that.
The other thief, though, has a different plea, a different use for memory. And like people in therapy who are often asked to go through the memories of their childhood, past addictions or poor decisions and put them together in a different way, the thief needs to reassemble his life in the most profound way.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That’s the cry of everyone who is in need of a different story line. As his life is ebbing away, as death nears, there is only one story line that he sees – the endless poor choices that led him to be more than a common thief. Crucifixion was reserved for serious offenders of the law, not the mere riff raff of the day. Recognizing a kingly divinity in Jesus, he turns and prays for a different memory – a different way to put his life together. “Jesus, remember me” – put me back together in the way that you need for me to be put back together. He knows he has nothing to offer the king next to him – no promise of a new life, no new leaf to turn over. He is out of time and excuses. He doesn’t ask for vengeance or to sit on a throne next to Jesus. He asks that his life be remembered – put together differently and included in the life of Jesus himself. And Jesus grants him that wish. Today you are in my ‘memory’ – my story line. Today, you are with me in paradise.
That’s what memory did for the thief – it gave him a new story line, a new way to see his life – not as a failure, but as caught up now in the saving death of Jesus on the cross. And that is what memory can do for us as well – it can let us put the coherent thread of our lives together in a way that lets it be caught up in the life of Jesus himself.
“Jesus, remember me” – becomes our prayer on this feast of Christ the King. Jesus, put my/our lives together in a way that encompasses mercy and love and forgiveness. Put us together in a way so that your story of love becomes our story of love. Remember us as we ‘do this in memory of you’ here at this altar. Because then something new can happen. If you do, then something amazing can be constructed out of our broken lives.
50 years ago, a nation grieved at the death of our leader. We each remember that event in very personal way. 2,000 years ago, only a few people grieved at the death of our savior. One of them, however, was gracious enough to utter the plea in a way has changed everything. Today, may that be both our prayer and our commitment – to open our hearts and our will to be remembered into being the sons and daughters of the King…
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom…”