the penultimate WORD

Series 2007 - March
We pray to heaven...


The Irvine Tartan  • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican




We pray – to Heaven –

We prate – of Heaven –

Relate – when Neighbors die –

At what o’clock to Heaven – they fled –

Who saw them – Wherefore fly?


Is Heaven a Place – a Sky – a Tree?

Location’s narrow way is for Ourselves –

Unto the Dead

There’s no Geography –


But State – Endowal – Focus –

Where – Omnipresence – fly?

Emily Dickinson


One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Luke 23:39ff.



Loneliness is not a stranger among us here.  The loss of another diminishes us and we know the imbalance.  By death or divorce or estrangement, lovers and friends both fall away and we are introduced to an ache recognized as loneliness.

When Neighbours die we remember them before Heaven by either prayer or prattle – before God or in idle gossip.  Some have asked us to remember them.  Others we remember without a request.  To some we pledge our memories and in each circumstance we strain to continue that which we cherish most – their companionship, if only in memory, and then briefly.

What was his name?  I’ve never heard.  But the request was made and recorded – Remember me, he had said to the Nazarene in the darkness.  And a pledge was made – Today you will be with me in Paradise.  Almost strangers, these two had been with each other for a short time.  The journey to the crest of the hill under the burden of a cross beam shared exhaustion and abuse. 

Perhaps a word was shared.  Introductions if made, would have been thin and there was no time for a miracle or two.  Nothing much was spoken of the Kingdom – there wasn’t time enough – but one asked the other to be remembered there.

No felon pledged faith in the darkened air.  Hope only was expressed; a hope that he might not be forgotten.  A hope that is harboured in every heart, that we might not be as though we had never been.

We seek not be remembered for our transgressions.  For the felon, he sought not to be remembered “as a thief.”  Neither do we ask to be remembered for our deceptions or infidelities or our abusiveness.  Nor do we ask to be remembered for our accomplishments, as flattering as that might sound.  Virtue and vice both fall away and what we earnestly hope for is that we will be remembered for having been.

But where might this Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews and this felon fly?  And one before the other?  And leave the embittered felon alone amongst the carrion? 

There’s no Geography.

The assurance given is more than assurance asked for – remembered?  No! 

This nameless man without a grave will not be remembered.  No headstone will mark his place.  This man with no identity, neither parents nor progeny – he will not be remembered.  This man whose detailed crime is already forgotten, whose purse and dignity have been taken, will not be remembered. 

The assurance is given that Today you will be with me in Paradise. 

No longer alone, and joining this rabbi before John or Peter or Paul or Stephen, this felon is assured of presence beyond memory.

And could it be otherwise?  Where might Omnipresence fly?  Though he go to the very ends of the earth and be forgotten, he would never be alone.  Though he find his bed in Sheol and amongst men be long forgotten, he would never be alone.  No less with him in Paradise than on Golgotha, indeed all three fly together this afternoon.

And for what purpose?  Not a reward.  The time for reward has passed these two.  These two have followed other paths.  As rewards go, they have found their reward.  Each in his own way found a path that led up to Jerusalem, and beyond the City gates to a hillside they shared even for a brief time.  A different cartographer draws the geography of redemption.  On this hillside the centre of God’s will is found by such as never considered their worth. 


Copyright © 2007 James T. Irvine

Series 2007





Jesus’ Last Words

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.