I was Peter. I was Pilate. I was both the bad thief and the good thief.
Last weekend, at our church’s Palm Sunday services, I had the role of “speaker” in our three-person Passion play.
When I first looked it over, I thought to myself, “There aren’t too many lines for me to read. This should be fairly easy.” Mostly I listened as our narrator and our priest, reading the lines of Jesus, went back and forth, with the occasional line or two coming in from me, acting the part of the various other characters.
The first to speak was Peter, the right-hand man of Jesus. He’s the guy who has your back. He’s a big talker. He promises Jesus he’d never leave his side. Jesus knew better, saying Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed in the morning.
The rock upon which the church was founded was extremely human that day. He shirked his responsibility. Three times, he denied even knowing the person he’d committed his life to following.
Ah, I certainly know this character. I felt so convicted reading those lines. I’ve been Peter before. I’ll talk a big game about my faith. It’s easy to be sanctimonious when times are good. I’ve also hidden my face and my faith when things became awkward or confrontational. That’s not living your faith.
A bit later, it was time for Pilate’s lines. He’s the guy who doesn’t really want to kill Jesus, but he doesn’t really want to incite a riot either. He bends to the public’s will, releasing Barabbas and allowing the crucifixion of Jesus to make his own life easier.
Indeed, I’ve been Pilate before too. Why rock the boat? Why not just let someone have their little victory, even if you know in your heart it’s wrong? Why should you trouble yourself too much with someone else’s troubles, right?
Deeper into the narrative, Jesus hangs on a cross, alongside two justly condemned criminals. The one voices his disdain that Jesus didn’t just come down from the hanging, bringing these two down with him.
Yes, at times I’ve been the bad thief too, questioning why God’s will wasn’t matching up with what I wanted. It’s too tempting to yell and demand things from the world and grow angry when it doesn’t turn out just the way you’d like.
Finally, though, the good thief acknowledged Jesus properly with this line: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I felt such comfort hearing the words of Jesus come back to me: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In so many ways, it’s that simple. Confess your weakness. Ask for the aid of Jesus. Eternity in God’s kingdom awaits you.
Oh, how I long to have the faith of the good thief, to know your salvation is at hand because you followed God’s way, even if it wasn’t until the very end of your life.
As we celebrate Easter around the globe, let’s celebrate this wondrous gift we’ve received. It’s a gift that too many people take for granted. It’s a gift I’ve overlooked in my own life, when I lived the roles of Peter, Pilate and the bad thief.
All of us can be forgiven, no matter the sin, and Jesus told us exactly how. We just have to listen.
Happy Easter. Christ is risen!