Seven Last Words 07


"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" - Luke 23:43.

How could we dare to hope without forgiveness? What would it mean to think of shaping our whole existence as a journey towards God or, at least, a struggle not to be pulled any further away, if we thought that this was simply our personal struggle? Surely it would mean nothing very spiritual. It would mean an endless calculation of how we were doing: up yesterday, down today. We would be a myriad replicas of Sisyphus, forever pushing our boulders uphill to nowhere, only to be rebuffed. We would be like ants in a colony, faithfully working away; for nothing.

Hope is our apprehension on earth of the Heavenly light, made possible by the energy of forgiveness. Hope is the only means we have of seeing our way around this muddled earth with all its dark corners. Without hope  we live in a state of endless terror, of the fear of what is round corners, behind walls, out of our eye line. To be without hope is like playing a lifelong computer game, assaulted by demons.

Hope is our human entitlement as children of God but for so long, living in the shadow of Adam, we lost hope. It is being restored now, as we stand by the cross.

I am a thief: I have stolen ideas, I have stolen a reputation, I have stolen office supplies. Perhaps my punishment is harsh; but I bring myself to admit that I have stolen. I beg forgiveness and My Saviour says to me that I am forgiven and that in dying I may be illumined by the light of hope shining from a distant place, light that is created by the wonderful, mysterious encounter between the Creator and the created, by the in substantiation of those who have been saved into the being of the Creator.

Yet there are those who walk in Our Saviour's Church of Hope with a list in their hands of tariffs for light; if we pay them so much in torment and treasure, if we perform a modern day variation on the Medieval theme of indulgences, we will be assured all the light we need here on earth which will draw us safely into the light of our Creator.

But human pride obscures light so that we have to move our position, to evade the obstacle, to be in a permanent state of flex and flux to keep an open channel between ourselves and the light. It is ironic that those who claim to be the most faithful inheritors of Luther should be the most ardent sellers of contemporary indulgences, armed with the price list for Heaven.

There is a paradox in our approach to hope which we need to grasp. On the one hand, hope is less clear cut than the transaction model just mentioned; we simply do not know the price of our entry into the light of our Creator; but, secondly, the terms we are being offered are much more generous than any tariff that humanity will ever devise. It is in the nature of humanity that it forms power relations, and the Church of Our Saviour is no exception. The tariff model is based on a power structure where some people put themselves in charge, make the list and then tell us how we should pay; but God has no need of power relations because we are not in the same category as God; so, just as there are no meaningful power relations between a human being and a grain of sand, so there are no power relations between God and humanity.

Once we see that hope is not related to power we need not be frightened of the earth. Instead of seeing our lives through the occluding glasses of earthly vanity, so that we are always frightened of other people, we can live in the innocence of Heavenly light. Earthly fear, of losing out to the competition, of not being able to keep up appearances, of being less physically strong or beautiful than our peers, of being made a fool of, all this fear is undergone because we have misunderstood the purpose of being here. We are not here to compete, we are here to strive, individually and collectively, to reach the heavenly light.

Even in the gloom of Good Friday, as we stand at the foot of the Cross, as we see the thief turn to Jesus and admit his sin and beg for forgiveness, even now, the scene is still lit by that distant heavenly light because at the moment of his own greatest agony Jesus turns his mind and that of the thief towards heaven. If we are just a little cynical we can see why the thief might have been so anxious; after all, he was near to death and had nothing to lose; so he asked for forgiveness and was shown the hope of the Heavenly kingdom? Is that the sort of game we play? D o we regard being here now, standing at the foot of the cross, as filing our insurance policy with the almighty? Is it a coincidence that the older we are the more likely we are to be in church? Does religious conviction uncannily mirror concern for a comfortable transition from earthly gloom to Heavenly light? Is it simply a prudential punt? I fear we are all a little too apt to file our insurance but claim higher motives.

I have to wonder why my prayers were perfunctory in my twenties, brisk in my 30s, solid in my 40s and now substantial in my 50s. Have I really grown in the knowledge and love of Our Saviour or am I conscious of time passing?

Our eyes may grow dim as we ponder the approaching end of earthly life, but the heavenly light never dims. We only see it here on earth faintly, in the same way that we see the sun in the light of the moon; but it is still the true light that we see, the true light in a moon that has emerged from the eclipse of Adam's sin. We may not know the substance, the true meaning, of our in substantiation into the life of God, but, through our doubt, we may glimpse its reality. The imprecision of hope does not arise because of the whether but only the how.

God knows our weakness, knows if we are filing an insurance policy while pretending to act in love. God knows the games we play with ourselves and with God. There are no places into which the heavenly light does not penetrate; no walls too thick, no scheme  too dense, no sin too great. Our sin is not thinking that we are worthy of heaven, our sin is thinking that God's mercy is as shallow and narrow as our own.

"this day" says Our Saviour to the thief "You will be with me in Paradise". But if we take our worldly glasses off and see the world as God created it, we will see that we are already in paradise; a paradise which sin has defaced but which Our Saviour will make radiant.

Look steadily, straight at the Cross; behind it, past the gloom, there is a glimmer of the heavenly dawn.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as You hang upon the cross promising paradise to the repentant thief, forgive us for abandoning heavenly hope and cowering in earthly fear; may we struggle towards the Cross, creeping from the darkness of our own devices towards its shadow from where we shall see the light of the heavenly dawn.