by Rev. Doug Gray
Henry David was a pastor. For more than 50 years, he shepherded churches in California and Connecticut. He learned the art of asking and the art of listening. He had a master’s sense of timing and knowing what needed to be said and when. Two days before we sang Henry home to Jesus, I came up the darkened hallway of the hospital, in a hurry to spend some precious time with Henry. I started to rush into the room, but I noticed there was a young nurse sitting on the side of his bed with her back to me. She was pouring out her heart to Henry, and weak as he was, he was still totally focused on caring for her. Henry had spent his whole life trying to become a person who loved well, who pastored well, and even though his eyes were dimming, he couldn’t help but be the man of God whom he had tried to become.
Was it that way for Jesus? All His life, He lived the love of God. For three years, Jesus had prayed and healed, taught and forgiven, cast out demons and preached grace. He gathered a number of women and Twelve men as His close friends. They shared the same air and food, stories and miracles, laughter and tears. Yet one friend betrayed Him, and another denied Him three times. Almost all the rest scattered, perhaps broken and afraid. He would forgive them too. Even on the cross, Jesus offers forgiveness to his mocking enemies and broken friends, and hope to a thief at the edge of the ultimate darkness, who saw the light. Even on the cross, even as He is dying, Jesus is saving. Jesus says to the criminal, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” William Barclay writes, “The word Paradise is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honour, he made him a companion of the garden, and he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king.” Jesus promises the thief an invitation to walk in the garden with Him for all of that eternity.
Perhaps that’s the word we have most need to hear all our lives. All our lives we search for the relationship that can make us complete, the love that is forever, and the hope that can fill us with joy. Our lives are defined by that search. Perhaps we do a good deed here or there, but Jesus doesn’t just want our good deeds, Jesus wants us to be good. Jesus doesn’t just want us to show compassion—Jesus wants us to become compassionate. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be mature and complete, therefore, just as your heavenly Father is mature and complete.” So Jesus most longs for us to not just receive grace from His hand, but to be so marked by that grace that we might, by the grace of God, simply become clear channels for that grace to flow to a broken world. We won’t have to even think about it. We can’t help ourselves but be the grace—for grace is where we are, peace is how we live, love is who we are. Because we walk with Him in all we do, as if we were in Paradise.
Even on the cross, Jesus can’t help but be the Lord and Savior He had always been. He is grace and forgiveness and relationship, even when He is dying.