April 6, 2020
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”— Luke 23:43 —
This promise — given moments before death to a convicted thief — finds us in a particularly fitting moment.
As many have died, are dying, and will die because of COVID-19, we know families are reeling in grief that cannot be fully shared together, and faith communities are at a loss for how to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), how to share the burden of sorrow that has settled on us.
And this isn’t true only of those who are dying because of this pandemic. This is equally true of those dying of all the other causes that end human lives, in the midst of this pandemic.
The thief on the cross expressed his repentant faith in Jesus as his Savior and Lord, and was promised peace in paradise. We trust in hope that all who do the same, all who put their lives — and deaths — in the care of the Lord Jesus will not perish into nothingness and oblivion when they die; we trust in Christ they will be welcomed into heaven’s rest, until that day when Christ shall return with all the saints in the resurrection of all things and he establishes his kingdom on earth.
All of this was accomplished precisely because Jesus was on the cross, between the thieves.
Q. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?
A. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.
This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might deliver us, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.— The Heidelberg Catechism —
I’m sure this promise from Jesus brought peace to the thief’s heart, but the repentant thief was still dying an agonizing, excruciating death. In the same way, we cling to this promise for our assurance, but we still experience the sorrow, the pain, of death.
It gives me peace that Jesus Christ did, too. Jesus didn’t save himself from the pain of death, but drank deeply the cup that was given to him, tasting the anguish of human death, sharing our suffering innocently, to redeem even our suffering, our grief.
As we grieve, as we walk together under death’s dark shadow, remember that Jesus has journeyed this path before us, and Jesus leads us again, with his strength and his compassion to comfort us, with his goodness and mercy hemming us in.
Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd,
Bless those who mourn,
That they might be comforted.
Through your unconquered life, we pray.