And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
The book of Genesis describes God’s creation as a beautiful Garden filled with every kind of fruit and flower. It was a perfect place in full harmony with God the creator. Never has there been a place that matched its beauty. In a word, God’s garden is paradise.
In his epic poem Paradise Lost, 17th century poet John Milton vividly and creatively describes the battle of good versus evil. Though it does not claim to be scripturally accurate, the poem does span the entirety of the traditional story of humanity’s fall from grace: the encounter and temptation of Eve by the serpent, Adam’s willingness to eat of the forbidden fruit, their realization that they were naked and the shame they felt as God came looking for them in the garden. Finally, humanity was expelled from God’s garden.
Because sin entered the world, Paradise has been lost; humanity no longer lived in that perfect communion with God and there is nothing that humanity can do in order to redeem that which was lost. Instead people live throughout history struggling with the prospect of doing the good desired for us by God. Instead of doing God’s will for us, we continue to fail at the task of nurturing relationships, loving our neighbor, tilling and keeping God’s garden. Only God can reconcile humanity with the paradise which was lost to sin.
The journey through Lent begs God’s people to reflect upon our fallen humanity. The reality of this struggle between good and evil is played out at Golgatha, the place of the skull. Humanity is so corrupted by sin that we no longer recognize God in our midst. Instead of reaching out to our savior for healing and redemption, we hang him, he who is king, on a cross to bear the weight of our sin.
Yet it is still Jesus who reconciles. Jesus loves all the wrong people. He heals those who seemed to be forsaken by God, shares a table with the unclean, loves those who are outside the community. Jesus has turned the tables on sin and restores to us the definition of what it means to live a life in communion with God. Through his miracles, teaching and out pouring of unconditional love, Jesus helps us to see what it means to be truly human.
Finally, as our Lord and Savior hangs on the cross clinging to life, we recognize what we have done. We realize that it is because of our short sightedness and rebellion against God that Christ our King is suffering the death we so richly deserve. In the words of the thief at Jesus’ right hand, we too come to the cross and beg for forgiveness. We plead for forgiveness and ask for reconciliation; “Jesus remember me; remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
After ages upon ages of living in a state of sin with death being humanity’s only guarantee, Jesus brings the word of life. As we stand at the foot of the cross, Jesus speaks the word we have longed to hear; “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”