In all of the Gospels, there is only one time that a person refers to Jesus by His name. Usually people call Him master, or rabbi, or teacher. But one person turns to Him and says, “Jesus.”
The penitent thief, no doubt gasping in pain, calls to Him, “Jesus… remember me… when you come into your kingdom.”
We sometimes may feel that God has forgotten us. With all the suffering and hardship in the world, it is little wonder that we may look around, asking “where is God in all of this?”
In 1945 a young man sat inside a hut in a prison in Scotland. He was a reluctant soldier in Hitler’s army and now, a prisoner of war, he sat for months contemplating his past actions and the fate that awaited him. The cities he knew in Germany were no more. The war reduced them to rubble and the people, friends and family, lived on the edge of poverty. The horrors he saw in combat haunted his dreams.
But as a soldier in the northern campaigns, he was completely unaware of the horrendous actions of the Nazi regime in the concentration camps of Belsen and Auschwitz. His ignorance was not to last. One day in September of 1945 guards posted pictures from the camps on the wall of his hut without comment. As the prisoners examined them they slowly realized the truth. Their captors did not see them as simply enemy combatants, prisoners of war. Their allied guards saw them as monsters.
“Is this what we fought for?” they asked each other. “Were we driven to death and capture so that the concentration camp murderers could live a little while longer?” The prisoners choked with shame and disgust, compounded by the destruction of the war they fought in, and the uncertainty of their imprisonment.
Despair consumed the young man. But even so, God found Him. A visiting chaplain gave the young man a bible and with nothing else to do he began to read. In the Psalms of lament he recognized the agony of a people who felt God had abandoned them. In the story of the crucifixion he saw a God who experienced the same feelings of suffering, abandonment, and shame. Feeling utterly forgotten he found a friend in the one who promised to remember a penitent thief.
In 1947 the young man, still a prisoner, attended a Christian conference that brought together young people from around the world, an early “World Youth Day.” The Dutch entourage asked to meet with the German prisoners who fought in the Netherlands. The young soldier was one of them, he came to the meeting full of fear, guilt and shame. Those feeling only intensified as the Dutch Christians spoke of the pain Hitler and his allies had inflicted on them, of their fear of the Gestapo, the family and friends they had lost and the damage suffered by their communities. But the Dutch Christians were not there for spite or revenge, they were there to offer forgiveness. These Christians embodied the love the German soldier had read about in the story of Christ.
That moment turned his life upside down. He saw that despite everything, despite all that he experienced “God still looked on us with the shining eyes of his eternal joy.” There was hope for the future.
The German soldier was Juergen Moltmann. He would go on to become one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Years later he wrote:
“But the ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for and wait for; the ultimate reason is that we are wanted and wished for and waited for. What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Whenever we base our hope on trust in the divine mystery, we feel deep down in our hearts: there is someone who is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.”
The world is a fallen world. We wait for redemption. It is easy for us to despair and think that God has forgotten us. But this day, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, let us remember, that we are remembered.