WE often reverently wonder what meant the silences of the Cross. We dwell a great deal, and rightly enough, on Christ's words, but what of the hours of unbroken quiet? Of what was He thinking? Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh; what Christ thought He said. The words are the key to the silences.
The second Word tells us that during the time that had elapsed since He first spoke, His mind was on the life of the world to come, that new country as yet unexplored even by Him,upon the painful threshold of which He was now trembling. The prayer of the dying robber breaks in on His thoughts, thoughts which fit the prayer. With assurance and swift readiness He responds by promising the rest and joy of which He was thinking to His companion in suffering.
A considerable time seems to have elapsed [15/16] since the first Word, enough for the wonderful converting power of Christ to work upon the soul of the robber who ultimately became penitent under its influence. This robber, stung by his pain, half intoxicated from the drugged cup, was in no condition to be moved by spiritual influences at the beginning. Probably he helped his fellow to taunt Jesus at first. Soon, however, the momentary effect of the liquor passed away, and with senses rendered acute by suffering he saw quickly and deeply. Unlike his companion, he threw open his soul to the subtle power breathed forth from the central Figure. Touched by His patience, recalling perhaps the loving prayer that fell on half deaf ears when it was uttered, repentance was more rapidly perfected than with most men. The conditions of the Cross made this possible. With the majority of us repentance is a slow and laborious process; here it is as swift as it is royal. His recorded words contain all the elements of that sorrow of soul which is the preface to peace and joy. He separates himself from his former companion in sin and rebukes him with quiet, selfless dignity. He [16/17] vindicates the righteousness of Christ and bows his spirit in simple faith at the feet of the King. His sense of unworthiness allows him to ask but little even of a king--only that he may not be forgotten. Christ rewards his penitence by blessing him with a benediction so full that it blesses all ages with its consoling touch. "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."
Hereafter the penitent robber sinks into patient silence and meditates on the wealth of the promise.
Our Lord's answer tells us three things: (I) the blessing of forgiveness; (2) the reality of the world to come; (3) the character of that world.
1. Forgiveness is a great and wonderful word containing in its small compass the whole story of redemption. And those two words "with Me" are its sufficient explanation. A theology which is fast passing into oblivion once stripped it of its royal robes. It was a forensic process, a condescension of Divine pity, cold and exact, remitting some penalty. Christ declares it to be a renewal of abundant life by a renewal of the privilege of [17/18] close fellowship and union with Him. When God forgives man He bestows upon him the highest honour in His gift. The courtier in the outer chambers of the palace feels privileged; but the heavenly King bids each penitent subject come and share his companionship--"with Me in Paradise." In the first Word our Lord prays for forgiveness for men; in the second He reveals the character of that for which He prayed by ministering to the first fruits of his prayer.
Oh, children of men! are you taking the joy that is offered you, the present joy in all its completeness of forgiveness? or are you trying to satisfy your appetite with crumbs when the whole loaf is yours? Whatever the past, God can remit more than you can commit. And his remission means admission into his presence.
2. The reality of the world to come! In this past year bitter partings and unlooked-for sorrows have entered into our lives. Friends have gone into new and distant fields of labour; we have been bereaved as individuals, as a parish, as a nation; and we ought to dwell much on the reality of the world to come. [18/19] It is only when that other world becomes more real than this that we can face bereavement not simply with fortitude, but with bounding hope. Christ speaks of Paradise with firm assurance; and of going thither as though it might be to Jerusalem or Capernaum. He has been thinking much about it, and when He speaks of it to His new-found follower His tones carry conviction so that he too rejoices in anticipation of the beautiful land yonder where he is to be with the King. The penitent robber thinks crudely no doubt of that new country. To him it is a place of physical delight where the wind blows through stately palms, and glad rivers race to the sea over fertile plains. But it is real, a land near by. He and his Companion, Christ, are but a step away, for they are to enter it to-day.
Our realization of that land at best must be crude. But do not let us be afraid of talking of Paradise and Heaven as places. Doubtless they are conditions. But the common mind does not grasp what is baldly transcendental. We must be more or less anthropomorphic, we must project our ideas of life as we know [19/20] it beyond the grave. Nor is there any reason to be ashamed of so doing. Christ chose a term, "Paradise," suited to the comprehension of the man He was dealing with. He gave him something concrete, real. The metaphysician might find occasion to cavil at the materialism lurking behind the word. But Christ used it because it had substance for the ex-robber, it was something upon which he could exercise a living faith. Look up then to that real land where in quiet joy dwell your loved ones who have gone before.
3. Its chief characteristic is joyousness. Paradise is a glad word, fragrant with delight. Oh, yes, call it Purgatory if you will, if by Purgatory you mean a place where the last traces of sin are done away by the boundless tenderness of God. But the souls at rest are happy suffering souls; our earliest experience there will be to feel the caress of God. Paradise is not a prison house of torture; it is a palace of joy. The name tells of the Garden of God where He is the sufficient Food, and where the redeemed, transfigured, move from strength to strength in endless progress toward perfection; a garden where there is [20/21] fellowship--"with Me"; where "angel faces smile which we have loved long since and lost awhile." A young girl who lay dying had thought so much about the fellowship in Paradise that others caught her radiant belief and sent messages to their friends by her: wife to husband, child to parent, mother to baby. Messages so multiplied that she could not retain all in her memory, but she treasured the messages that came from mothers to their babies. To that dying girl how joyous a place was Paradise which long since became her home.
And God wishes Paradise to begin now inasmuch as He invites us to be with Him now. Soon, sooner than we dream of perhaps, we shall be bidden to move out and up through the gate of death to join the souls at rest. There we shall wait for the final triumph. God speed the day when the joys of Paradise shall rise to the still greater completeness of Heaven! for
. ... lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The Saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
 Let us give thanks for the faithful departed,--for relatives, friends, and those of our parish who have entered into rest.
OH, what, if we are Christ's,
Is earthly shame or loss?
Bright shall the crown of glory be
When we have borne the cross.
Keen was the trial once,
Bitter the cup of woe,
When martyred saints, baptized in blood,
Christ's sufferings shared below.
Bright is their glory now,
Boundless their joy above,
Where, on the bosom of their God,
They rest in perfect love.
Lord, may that grace be ours,
Like them in faith to bear
All that of sorrow, grief, or pain
May be our portion here:
Enough if Thou at last
The word of blessing give,
And let us rest beneath Thy feet,
Where saints and angels live.
 WE bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our only Mediator and Advocate.
GRANT, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.