She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and Sophia certainly revealed wisdom to me. I became her pastor in a round-about-way. Sophia knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying Sophia’s friend thought she ought to have a pastor. So, I was summoned to Sophia’s bedside. I was new at this pastor stuff and I was afraid. I had been told that Sophia only had a few weeks before the cancer would take her. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task. No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.
I went to Sophia’s bedside every day. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. No pat answers or trite platitudes if you please, just the facts. I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts that I possessed might not sustain us on our journey.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Sophia had spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she’d grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se but someplace heavenly, perhaps like Paris in the springtime. Sophia so loved Paris in the springtime, if only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who appreciate the finer things of life. Life? Sophia spoke the word “Life?” as if it were a question. Life?: Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.
One morning, I stopped by the bakery that used to be on Main Street and picked out the most European pastries I could find, then I swung by Starbuck’s and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down and asked me to heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster, and our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.
After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. It was cold and wet in London and Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come and be his love. One day, over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children. By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans. By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and in Sophia’s eyes, I had gone from being a no-good, bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us…
“What will become of me?” Sophia pleaded. I told her that the doctors would see to it that there was no pain. That wasn’t what she meant “What will become of me?” “Will there just be darkness? Or Will I see a bright light?”…
“I don’t know?” was all I could muster. Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death is the end. “No religious platitudes please. Just the facts.”
“I don’t know Sophia? I believe that we live and die in God and that in God all will be well?”
Sophia took my hand firmly and confessed, “I am afraid.”
I did not know how to comfort her, so I asked, “What are you afraid of Sophia?”
“Not of dying! Good God no! I’m not afraid of dying.” Sophia insisted, “I am afraid of being forgotten. Who will remember me?” …
“The people stood there watching. The rulers, however, jeered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself—if he really is the Messiah of God, the Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him. They served Jesus sour wine and said, “If you are really the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was an inscription above Jesus that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who hung there beside him insulted Jesus too, saying, “Are you really the Messiah? They save yourself—and us!” But the other answered the first with a rebuke:
“Don’t you even fear God? We are only paying the price for what we have done, but his one has done nothing wrong!” Then he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “The truth is, today you’ll be with me in paradise!”
Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. What does it mean to be remembered? What kind of kingdom is Jesus going into? I have often struggled with the notion of Jesus as a king. According to the New Testament when his contemporaries began to approach Jesus with the intention of making him a king, he high-tailed it out of there; Jesus ran away from being a king. Pilate called Jesus a king as an insult. Jesus’ teachings reject the very notion of his ever being a king. Jesus would not accept a kingdom of his own when he was tempted in the desert.
Jesus spoke of the basileia ton theon which is often translated as the “kingdom of God.” Several years ago, a Hispanic feminist theologian, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz suggested that a more accurate translation of baselia would be the term kin-dom. The kin-dom of God that Jesus spoke of is the family of God; a family of sisters and brothers of Jesus who embody God to one another and to the world. This kin-dom of which Jesus spoke goes beyond the bounds of family, tribe or blood. When the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality, we will all be sisters and brothers, kin to one another; a family of God dwelling together in the kin-dom. Jesus insisted that the kin-dom is within us all.
I have long since given up the notion that Jesus is some sort of cosmic bargain with a demanding, jealous, elsewhere god, sacrificing himself so that we can live happily ever after. I do believe that Jesus of Nazareth was human like the rest of us. I also believe that after the Romans executed Jesus, his friends and followers continued to experience something of who Jesus is. Christ is this experience of Jesus that never left his followers. As the Apostle Paul writes in the letter to the Colossians: “Christ is the image of the invisible God.”
This Christ first appeared the moment that the MYSTERY we call God burst forth in what science tells us was a “big bang.” For more than 14 billion years this Cosmic Christ has been appearing to reveal the glory of the MYSTERY that is the source of all reality, this MYSTERY that we call God. Christ is a cosmic event that reveals over and over again that the MYSTERY itself is LOVE. It is LOVE that is the Source of our being. Jesus embodied this LOVE in ways that continue to reveal aspects of the MYSTERY. Jesus taught his followers that we all have the ability to embody the MYSTERY to one another.
… “Jesus remember me when you come into your kin-dom.” To be re-memberedis to be called to mind or literally to be re-membered …to have our members put back together…to be made present again. “Jesus remember me when you come into your kin-dom.” …
We all want to be remembered. We desperately want to be remembered by those who go on before us. We all want to live on in the memories of those we are leaving behind. Indeed, we want to remember our very selves. Part of our great fear of dying is that we will disappear into nothingness. Poof, gone, forgotten…
“Jesus remember me when you come into your kin-dom.” How do you want to be remembered? Who will remember you? What will they remember? Will you recognize yourself beyond this life? Or will you disappear? Poof, gone, forgotten. Like the crowds that surrounded, cheered and then jeered and abandoned Jesus, we too are looking for a saviour. Alone upon our own crosses we too cry out to be remembered. Living in the LOVE that is God, we too shall die in LOVE and in LOVE, all will be well. We don’t know what will happen when we die. We trust that the goodness of our Creator will be as the psalmist insisted, our refuge, from nothingness. We will be remembered. We will not become nothing, somehow, we know not how, we will be remembered. No religious platitudes, just the facts…
Over and over again, Sophia’s desperate plea, “Who will remember me?” punctuated our conversations with fear that went beyond belief. No theological words or phrases about believing would suffice. Only the promise to remember her could bring any comfort. But who was I to make such a promise? So, I hesitated.
I tried to calm her fears with words. I tried to explain her fear away. And then one afternoon, Sophia took my hand and asked me about my travels, my loves, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. Sophia said she wanted to be able to remember me. I was reluctant. This wasn’t supposed to be about me. I was the pastor, the caregiver, there were professional boundaries that should not be crossed.
Sophia didn’t care to be cautious, time was of the essence. She wanted to remember me, and to do that, she needed to know me. So, I came out from under the protection of my clerical office and together we travelled back to the places that had shaped and molded me. Sophia and I became friends, if only for a brief moment in time, we were kin, each embodying LOVE for the other. A few days before she died, a panic came over her as she feared what might become of her. Once more, holding tightly to my hand, she begged me, “Who will remember me?”
With all my heart I promised, “I will remember you Sophia. Those men in Paris who fell at your feet all those years ago, the young man who fell in love with you in London, the children in Hamburg and the people in Kentucky, they will remember you. Your friends will remember you.” And then I took a long deep breath and I said, “I will remember you.” …
Sophia’s breathing calmed, and her grip loosened, and she began to smile. And then I asked her. “Sophia will you remember me!”
“I will remember you.” Sophia promised.
Over the course of next few days as her life drew to a close, Sophia and I were kin for one another. Embodying the Divine for one another. Loving one another. Remembering one another. I remember you my dear. I remember you. We are in the LOVE that is God and LOVE is in us and together we are kin and all will be well.
I will remember you!
“Remember me when you come into your kin-dom.”