Casimir Pulaski weekend was a long one, with no school on Friday or Monday. To celebrate, Phil took off work Friday and we walked around the zoo, taking in the fishy smells of penguins and puffins and polar bears. The next day, we caught the Orchid Show and warm, sunny weather for feeding enormous carp. Sunday, church and dinner at Grandma’s; Monday, lunch with friends.
It was a lot of togetherness. As an introvert, I’d say it was almost too much togetherness. By Tuesday morning, I was ready to send the child out to get her free appropriate public education, but she was sick and stayed home. My batteries were drained.
I love our little family—a lot—but it can be hard to be with people for days on end. The to-do list in my mind never goes away, so I often feel that when I’m just relaxing—just being with them—I ought to do something more productive.
My mind is very busy. I’m not always present. Still, it might be the best gift you can give.
This week in the second Last Word from the Cross, Jesus continues his conversation with one of the criminals beside him. Neither of the two criminals had big plans by this point, but one spent his last minutes on earth more productively than the other. One of them joined in with the crowd and mocked Jesus, but the other one defended Jesus, arguing that he (unlike them) had committed no crime.
“Jesus,” he turned and said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus said he would: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Be with me. Presence is at the heart of his promise. Christians believe that Jesus had work to do that day: suffer, die, be buried, descend into hell (as the Apostle’s Creed used to say), and redeem humankind. Clearly, this puts my to-do lists to shame. But Jesus wasn’t distracted by all that lay before him. He was all about being present to the thief.
While Jesus’ dearest friends had to wait until early Sunday morning to be with him again, this common thief received the gift of his presence that very day. Today you will be with me.
In the book Real Presences George Steiner writes: “But ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other.”
Yet it doesn’t have to be a dream. We don’t have to get stuck in Saturday’s limbo between death and resurrection. Rather, we can experience the presence of Jesus today—just by breathing his name and saying, be with me.
He’s already there.
Note from Em In January and February, I took a dive into a tradition that was, until recently, unfamiliar to me: Jesus’ Last Words from the cross, also known as the Sayings of Jesus on the cross. These seven phrases are taken from all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Woven together, they form a cohesive narrative of Jesus’ final hours. Books I read include Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas, Echoes from Calvary edited by Richard Young, Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe, In the Shadow of the Cross by Stephen C. Rowan, Seven Last Words by Fr. James Martin, and Friday Afternoon: Reflections on the Seven Last Words by Neville Ward. These seven posts I am writing during Lent are my reflections on the Last Words. Enjoy.