Faith Impulse

Death is not the end of life, but the end of evil. A sign of hope.


Lukas 23, 33-43 aus der Neuen Genfer Übersetzung

Als sie an die Stelle kamen, die ›Schädel‹ genannt wird, kreuzigten die Soldaten ihn und die beiden Verbrecher, den einen rechts und den anderen links von ihm. 
Jesus aber sagte: »Vater, vergib ihnen, denn sie wissen nicht, was sie tun.« 

Die Soldaten warfen das Los um seine Kleider und verteilten sie unter sich. 
Das Volk stand dabei und sah zu. Und die führenden Männer sagten verächtlich: »Anderen hat er geholfen; soll er sich doch jetzt selbst helfen, wenn er der von Gott gesandte Messias ist, der Auserwählte!« 
Auch die Soldaten trieben ihren Spott mit ihm; sie traten zu ihm hin, boten ihm Weinessig an und sagten: »Wenn du der König der Juden bist, dann hilf dir selbst!« Über seinem Kopf war eine Aufschrift angebracht; sie lautete: »Dies ist der König der Juden.« 
Einer der beiden Verbrecher, die mit ihm am Kreuz hingen, höhnte: »Du bist doch der Messias, oder nicht? Dann hilf dir selbst, und hilf auch uns!« 
Aber der andere wies ihn zurecht. »Fürchtest du Gott auch jetzt noch nicht, wo du doch ebenso schlimm bestraft worden bist wie dieser Mann und wie ich?«, sagte er zu ihm. »Dabei werden wir zu Recht bestraft; wir bekommen den Lohn für das, was wir getan haben. Er aber hat nichts Unrechtes getan.« 
Dann sagte er: »Jesus, denk an mich, wenn du deine Herrschaft als König antrittst!« Jesus antwortete ihm: »Ich sage dir: Heute noch wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein.«

Dear congregation, many will wonder why such a text about the Crucifixion of Christ has to be read just before Advent. Has it suddenly become Good Friday? Are we not heading towards Christmas?

According to Protestant tradition, today is Eternity Sunday, according to Catholic tradition it is Christ-the-King Sunday, and in my calendar it is called Dead or Deceased Sunday. Anyway, that is the reason why we have such a text suggested for today's reading. The church year comes to an end with today's Sunday and so it is natural to remember the people who passed away today. Which inevitably leads us to consider our own passing or our own death.

To think about one's own death is unpleasant for most people. Even if casual sayings are given, the topic is rarely deepened. It is rather suppressed or hushed up. Rarely have I met people who can speak openly and without any hesitations about their own death, or are able to take a sighted perspective on the subject. Death, and even more so one's own death, is still a taboo subject, i.e. a subject that one does not talk about.

But in my view, today's text has another really profound, life-changing,  comforting dimension that I'd like to reveal today. Death is not simply the end of life. It is the end of life lived here on earth. But at the same time it is the entrance into a much wider, liberated reality of which we have only a distant idea. In order to understand this dimension, we may have to enter into the depths of humanity. Today's text offers the opportunity to do so.

Two things have touched me personally in the crucifixion of Jesus as Luke describes it to us. One is the mockery, the other the cruelty. They are somehow part of our humanity.

Certainly, the cruelty varies in intensity. It is sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, sometimes more visible and then again more concealed. But I would like to shout to the second criminal who turns to Jesus: No! You are not receiving payment for what you have done. No! Even for the worst crime in the world, no one deserves crucifixion. This is human cruelty, where one is not satisfied with a punishment, but still wants to make an example. To make an example, in the old language, means that one would like to have a particularly clear, deterrent example. Do not do this, or you will be threatened with that. You will be crucified.

It is repeatedly frightening to me and unexplainable, why we humans are the only living beings on this earth who may display unparalleled cruelty. No animal on this earth is capable of inflicting this to another animal. It is outmatched what we humans inflict on each other, and on our fellow creatures. No animal tortures. But we do. 

And that's what I mean by visible or concealed cruelty: the livestock factories are not seen every day, nor is our treatment of the fish and the so-called "by-catch".  "By-catch" is the term used to describe the animals that are not specifically hunted. I do not want to go into detail now but the responsibility for this cruelty is borne by all who eat or buy these products. Myself included.

The second thing that touched me was the mockery. The rulers are mocking Jesus. The soldiers mock him. Even the second criminal cannot resist the temptation to exalt himself above another human being in the most hopeless situation. 

Here, too, I asked myself: Is the punishment not enough? What becomes visible on the cross? Is it not enough to see a bleeding human being, gasping for breath, obviously being tortured?

In the German language, there is a saying about mockery that goes, "He who has the damage doesn't have to worry about the mockery." Here is an example: imagine that the neighbor has started to build a double garage. Halfway through, he runs out of money and can't finish the double garage. Just think how many people will say: Well, it serves him right. He should have thought first whether he has enough money for a double garage. It had to be a double garage and not a single garage. That's what he gets now. And so on and so on. Nobody asks about the background. Mercy? What is that supposed to be?

Dear congregation, dear fellow sisters and brothers - that is why we need Jesus.
That is why God "gifted" us humans with death, I would almost say.

Today's text makes us perceive human cruelty. And it makes us ask why we still have to mock people, that is, trample on them. 

Why, even in the face of a suffering, bleeding human being, we still have to be cynical, that is, callous, compassionless and contemptuous of humanity. Narrowing it down to the conclusion why we humans are evil.

I am not saying that we humans are all equally evil. No. But I am saying that we are all subject to an evilness that we don't always resist. 

Not being able to resist, not wanting to resist, saying that it "happened" to us - I'm just saying that we are all affected. None of us is perfect nor, biblically speaking, without sin.

The great blessing associated with death is that here evil ceases. 
God has put an end to evil. 
In eternity there is no more evil. 
Evil will not exist in eternity.

For in eternity God reigns. And Jesus shows us in his behavior what that will look like. How that will look like when he prays, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

That's why we need Jesus.
Because Jesus is different. Because Jesus breaks the spiral of violence by bearing it. Because in Jesus we can hear and feel the loving care of God. 

This "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" applies to the rulers who did not or could not recognize who Jesus really is. It applies to the soldiers who just drove the nails through Jesus' hands because they were ordered to do so. It also applies to the criminal who mocks Jesus and at the same time shows his own helplessness with his "and help us too". 

With this one, single prayer the world is changed!
Jesus shows us how it can be done. And I believe we can try to follow Jesus.

In my opinion, it is one of my most important tasks, as a Christian ministering in preaching, to encourage people again and again to soften their hearts instead of hardening them. To preach and highlight this compassion that we can see in Jesus. This love that changes the world. And which also changes death.

The second criminal succeeded in this. 
On the last meters, so to speak, the last breaths of his life, he manages it with two decisive movements. 
The first movement brings about an encounter, a relationship with Jesus. He addresses Jesus by name: "Jesus, remember me." 

And the second movement shatters the power of death by giving Jesus the decisive meaning: "when you take your reign as king.”  

This is incredible. 
It is visionary. 
This man speaks out what we Christians have only dared to hope for with the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus immediately confirms this hope, this faith, this death-changing dimension: 
"I tell you, this very day you will be with me in paradise.”

I think it is never really pleasant to look at the crucifixion scene and perceive it's human cruelty. Neither on Eternity Sunday nor on Good Friday. 

But shining through the suffering, especially here in Luke and even more clearly in John, is a profound, life-changing, comforting dimension, as I said at the beginning.

Death does not have the last word. 
It is not the end of life but the end of evil. 

And if I can accept that for myself and also for my deceased, then bodily death loses its horror. Then I can also look forward to it, as Paul did, for example. That with it all agonies, all weakness, all suffering will have an end.

And if that is too stunning for me- to look forward to my own death- then perhaps I can at least make peace with that thought. With the thought that it will be good with God. I may not be able to imagine it now. But it will be good with God. Of that I am sure.


Der Tod hat nicht das letzte Wort. 
Er ist nicht das Ende des Lebens, sondern das Ende des Bösen. 

Der Tod hat nicht das letzte Wort. 
Er ist nicht das Ende des Lebens, sondern das Ende des Bösen. 

Und wenn ich das für mich und auch für meine Verstorbenen annehmen kann, dann verliert der leibliche Tod seinen Schrecken. Dann kann ich mich, so wie beispielsweise Paulus, auch darauf freuen. Dass damit alle Qualen, alle Schwachheit, alles Leiden ein Ende haben wird.

Und wenn mir das zu steil ist, mich auf meinen eigenen Tod zu freuen, dann kann ich vielleicht wenigstens Frieden schließen mit diesem Gedanken. Mit dem Gedanken, dass es gut sein wird bei Gott. Ich mag es mir jetzt noch nicht vorstellen können. Aber es wird gut sein bei Gott. Dessen bin ich mir sicher.


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