I was working as a chaplain at the cancer clinic in my province. One afternoon there was a call for me to make a visit to a young man up on the bone marrow transplant unit. He had just been told he had only a few weeks to live. He wanted to talk to the chaplain.
What does one say in such a situation? Silently I prayed for the right words as I walked to the ward.
It didn’t take long for him to get to the heart of his question: “What’s going to happen to me when I die?” He said: “I’ve done some pretty bad things. I’ve made a mess of my life. Will I go to hell?”
As he spoke, the story of Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross came to my mind. I said: “There’s a story in the Bible about when Jesus was about to die. There were two thieves on either side of him.”
The young man’s face lit up. He said enthusiastically: “I know that story.” It was the one story in the Bible that he knew. Once he and a friend had looked it up out of curiosity. It became a bridge between his life and the gospel.
I reminded him that the thief in the story was about to die – there was nothing he could do except believe and ask Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. And Jesus said to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
To this young man in the hospital, about to die, who also felt condemned and undeserving, Jesus’ words promised hope and life eternal.
To all who hear, who are wondering: “What if I should die today? What will happen to me?”, Jesus offers the same assurance: “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Simply ask: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.