The Criminal’s Prayer: “Remember Me!”

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "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." -Luke 23:39-42

I'm afraid of dying.

I am a Christian and I am horribly afraid of falling bridges, crashing planes, turned over cars and anything else that you can think of that would include my body being mangled into a mess of bones and flesh. Please don't comfort me with, "If a plane crashes, you'll die quick" and other little catchy things like that. I don't walk around overly pre-occupied with it. It doesn't stop me from driving ...over bridges ...to an airport. It might make me uncomfortable and irritable on a flight, which I admit I try to do as little as possible. But on occasion, I'll still board a plane. Can I be a Christian and be afraid of dying? I hope so. Can I be afraid of pain, illness, hurt and disappointment? Again, I hope so. God is supposed to be my strength in my weakness. He is supposed to help me in my unbelief. He is supposed to be the same great Savior even if my faith is smaller than a mustard seed. So yes, I am afraid of dying and at the end of the day when I consider these things, quite often my thoughts don't seem much different from the thief on the cross, who asks simply, "Remember me."

I recall one bible study at my old church. It was a video series and the first night was a story of the teacher of the lesson and his father, and how on his father's death-bed, his father kept crying out, "Gotta win one more for Jesus! Gotta win one more for Jesus!" It was a great illustration of how we should be serving Jesus right up to the end. It certainly worked us up and made us all want to be "purpose driven." But, I wonder how many people die that way? I won't begrudge that dear old saint his thoughts as he died.

 
I just wonder if the thief on the cross is a more normal picture of death as we go to our graves or maybe even when we go to the pit of our daily struggles.
 

I am 46 years old, and while 46 is not really that old, nowadays there are moments I have in sickness, more than used to occur for me, where I feel like I may not recover. I guess this is me being "transparent" about how morbid I can be in my thoughts sometimes. When you're younger and you get sick, you think you'll recover even in your worst illness. When you get older and your body doesn't work like it used to, you wonder a little more when you get a weird chest pain. You wonder if it's not something a bit more serious. I'll give you a little peek into my thought life during those moments. I usually pray. I certainly pray for my health in that moment but like the best "fire" insurance money can by, I confess to God my sins and struggles. I am asking him to remember me. Not because I am worthy and deserving. Not because I follow him perfectly. I, in that moment, like the thief hanging next to him, am asking Christ to look at me with all the mercy and grace given to him and worked through him by the Father on the cross.

I am also praying, “Remember THEM!”

I am praying for my children and specifically for their salvation. I am praying for my wife to see them through eyes of grace and mercy given by Jesus himself. I am praying that Christ will hold fast to her and keep her healthy. As many different theological thoughts as I have on any given day, in the fear of quite possibly leaving this world in that moment, I am praying and trusting God to remember me, whatever his will would be and remember my family as well. I am crying out like that thief in the moments before the legs are broken. Remember me. Remember them. Remember Lord that we are sinners deserving of death, but you were not. Remember that sinners are who you came for. Remember this sinner, who cries out for mercy with his dying breath, or in my most painful moments of life. Remember my family of sinners, who I am lowering through the roof for you to heal and keep.

If we are truly honest, when we see ourselves in "the end" or even through the most difficult of sins or trials, we see a wretched person in need of grace upon grace. At the end of our lives, the crowd of well-wishers have nothing but good thoughts. We all lift the departed up high and speak well of this great citizen and loving person. We may even speak well of ourselves and our accomplishments before we take our last breath. In reality, our final raw thought as a believer should be one of understanding of the true dual nature that we possess. As one who can often "look great" but be a mess inside, I know that more times than not people are having that honest conversation within themselves. When we come to that point of death, or even that deepest pit of sin, we understand that we are nothing more than a beggar asking for crumbs of grace or a father asking for a seed of faith to trust in the salvation of their children. We understand that we are the battered and bruised being cared for by the One True Good Samaritan. We are beating our chests begging for mercy and forgiveness.

Whether on our deathbed or confronted with our volume of sin before God, we resort back to that one place. That one place that we know God meets us at. He meets us in our sin and filth. He meets us in a raw and dirty place. He meets us with a garment of grace that he drapes over us. He meets us at a cross like he met the criminal who deserved his fate. He comes for sinners and whether that is in the end of your days or the end of, "a hell of a day" that includes failure and sin, he still comes. He meets with us. He washes us clean. He feeds us his Word. He comforts us with his grace. He reminds us of the other nature we possess. The one that comes ONLY from him and that declares us righteous. He hears our prayers and he remembers.

He says, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Before you die, before you sin again, you are already there, because he is there. Your advocate is whispering words of forgiveness and grace.

Thank you Lord for remembering us.

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor