In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Michael, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s easy to think our memories are infallible. We go through life, we recall events, we recall people, and we often turn those memories into stories that we tell. I am sure that you have already been doing that this past week: remembering Michael, remembering the things he liked to do and the things he didn’t, turning those memories into stories, laughing and crying. I think that memory is probably a gift of God to help us heal at times like these. But the fact is, our memories are not perfect or infallible. Our memory of an event is often different from what really happened, or, at least, different from someone else’s memory of the same event. Maybe you’ve experienced that; maybe you’ve even experienced it in the past few days. I didn’t know Michael nearly as well as most of you. I did have the opportunity to visit with him several times over the past two months or so, and I had the privilege of delivering to him the forgiving word of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ own Body and Blood for his salvation and life, even in the midst of death. But I didn’t know him like you do. I don’t have the memories you have. But even your memories are not complete. Some things you have unintentionally forgotten. And some things you will intentionally push down because it does no good to remember them now.
But what can remembering do in the face of death? Can someone really be kept alive in our untrustworthy, fading memories? If Michael remains with us in our memories, how much is he really “with us”? But there is a remembering where no pieces fall out and that does not fade; a remembering that does not become dimmer or less trustworthy, but brighter and more vivid; more trustworthy. That is the sort of remembering the thief on the cross is getting at. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). But what can it mean for Jesus to “remember” this man, who knows better than anyone else his own sins and crimes? It obviously means more than just thinking about him as he was in the past, or on the cross, recalling him to mind. The man wants Jesus to do something, not just think about something. And even as Jesus promises him that he will be in paradise with Him, Jesus is doing something. His promise to the thief is only one particular instance of the prayer Jesus prays in verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” When the Son of God prays, His Father always hears Him and answers Him. The Father does forgive, because Jesus takes all sin—the thief’s, Michaels, yours, mine—as His own on the cross, and gives to sinners the opposite of their sin: holiness, forgiveness, life itself in place of death. The thief confesses who he is—condemned justly, deserving temporal and eternal punishment: a poor, miserable sinner—and then he confesses who Jesus is: this Man has done nothing wrong. He confesses that, in spite of His own righteousness, Jesus is a Man who is not foreign to sinners, who does not dwell somewhere in a distant, isolated heaven. No, this Jesus is not afraid of sinners; He did not come to condemn sinners or put them in their place. He came to save sinners and put them in His place. Jesus remembers, and He acts. His remembrance is mercy, as it is for the dying man on the cross. His remembrance is mercy, as it is when we eat His Body and Blood, given to us from that very cross. His remembrance is mercy for Michael, who cannot be forgotten by Jesus, no matter how our memories of him fade. How could Jesus forget a man on whom He put the mark of the cross, the mark of His own Name, on January 22, 1955? On that day, Jesus’ cross became Michael’s cross, and because it did, Jesus’ resurrection became Michael’s resurrection. Jesus remembered Michael from baptism on, throughout his life as you all remember it, into death last Friday, and through death as Michael’s soul waits with Christ and all His holy ones for the resurrection. Jesus will not even forget this body, as it waits in the ground. No, as Paul says, Jesus will return with a trumpet blast, with the shout of an archangel, and the dead in Christ will rise first—Michael will rise first. Because what is death to the Lord who is risen from the dead? What power can death have over Him or over those whom He has claimed for His own, even you? Yes, Jesus remembers you as well. He knows you. And on the cross Jesus remembered you so that He does not remember your sin, your unbelief, the relationships you’ve broken. He remembers none of it against you because it was all put to death in His own body, His own blood, as He prays without a shadow of a doubt: Father, forgive them. His mercy is for you, just as it is for Michael. And that remembrance by Jesus is a very literal re-membering. He will put the members of His body, including Michael, back together on the Last Day: one holy Church, under one Lord, in one faith and one baptism; one God and Father of us all. In that hope is the promise of Jesus’ own infallible memory: He knows those who are His, and His own hear His voice and follow Him, through death and into life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/18/12