"Remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness." - Nehemiah 13:22
"Jesus, Remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" - Luke 23:42
Often, we define ourselves by a particular period of time when the culture had a profound influence on us. For example, I was born in 1968, but I identify as an eighties child. That was the era when music had the biggest impact on me. During those years, the popular movies and TV shows stimulated my imagination. Yes, I wore pastel-coloured pants, and yes, I wore a knitted, wool tie.
One song that pleasantly stood out amongst other for me at the time (although I no longer feel this way) was the Glass Tiger hit, Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone. Super catchy and sugary to a fault, I can still sing the lyrics today. The first lines of the chorus ring out, "Don't forget me when I'm gone; my heart would break. I have loved you for so long, it's all I can take."
The simple message of the song is that the singer senses that the love of his life is no longer interested in him which breaks his heart. He pleads with his love to at the very least not forget him when he is no longer in her life. Maybe he did something to break her heart. Maybe she just lost interest. Either way, it's a strange lament for such an otherwise upbeat song.
But the desperation can still be felt. To not have the love of one so precious can feel crippling. You feel like you can't go on. Life loses its purpose. Such is the experience of many who have lost romantic love.
Now go deeper with me. Imagine the feeling of not knowing whether you have the love of the One who created you. Inside, you desire to know Him. You want to spend time with Him. You yearn for His affection as a Father. But He seems distant. You pray to Him, but you don't hear back. You suspect you did something to sour the possibility of relationship with Him. Maybe you even start to feel angry that He does not return your calls. Whatever the specific emotional reaction, you wish you could feel His great love for you.
The once governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, often prayed out to God in a similar way. Frequently, He asked the Lord to remember him.
Here was a man who led a broken people to rebuild the once mighty wall of Jerusalem which at that time, laid in rubble. He encouraged his people to be courageous in the face of many enemies who did not want them to rebuild the wall. He provided for them long-lost instruction in the law through Ezra the priest. He was brave, strong, and firmly committed to the task at hand.
And yet, for all his hard work, he sounded almost desperate when he sought God. What he desired more than any other thing was the love of his heavenly Father.
A similar story provides some of the greatest news you and I could ever hear. Long after Nehemiah but long before our time, a criminal hung on a cross as punishment for his crimes against the people. It is not clear what his ethnic background was nor do we know his back story that led to him becoming a thief.
But on the final day of his life, he found himself beside a man named Jesus who himself hung on a cross. However, this Jesus had done nothing wrong, even if the authorities didn't see it that way. His supposed crime? He professed to be the long-awaited saviour of the Hebrew people. Even worse than that, He professed to be the Son of the living God. Rome crucified him as a traitor. The Jews accused Him or being a heretic. At the very least, it would seem that the thief knew a bit about the man next to him named Jesus.
And somewhere in his own heart, he knew that Jesus was who He said He was. And his heart filled with the same desperation that Nehemiah had. He felt the same brokenness of the singer of a sugary 80's song. He said to Jesus, "When you enter your kingdom, Lord, remember me."
The fact that he said "your kingdom" indicates that He believed that Jesus was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And yet, he also knew that this great King was about to die. He didn't lose hope. He did not allow his heart to become filled with bitterness or apathy. Instead, he sought to connect to Jesus. In total desperation, he said, We are both going to die. More than anything, what I want you to do when you pass on is to remember me."
And that's where the story ends in jubilation. Jesus looks at him and replies, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." The man wants Jesus to remember him, and Jesus says, "I'll do more than just remember you. I'll make sure that you get to spend forever with me in heaven."
That is the Jesus we love and adore. On the day we pass from this earth, He will remember us, those who cried out to Him with a love so desperate.