When was Jesus’ “triumphal entry”? Judging from their section headings, most Bible translations are agreed: Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey.
However, reading Luke 23:39-43 yesterday, it struck me that the Gospels give a different answer to this question. This is the account of the two criminals hanging either side of Jesus. One taunts Jesus (“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”), the other rebukes him before saying to Jesus:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
This is an extraordinary thing to say to someone who is dying on the cross next to yours. But what’s even more striking is Jesus’ response:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
So when is it that Jesus “comes into his kingdom”? Jesus’ answer is “today”, the day on which he is dying on the cross. That is his true “triumphal entry”, the day on which he comes into his kingdom.
Fulfilled is all that David told
In sure prophetic song of old,
That God the nations’ king should be
And reign in triumph from the tree.
(LSB, hymn 455)
It occurs to me also that we can often see the kingdom only as a far-off future event. We take for ourselves the penitent criminal’s words, “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. We may even sing it to this haunting Taizé chant. And Jesus’ answer to us is the same as it was to the dying criminal: “today”. Today he is in his kingdom, today he comes to be with us, today we can enjoy fellowship with him – even if we have to wait to see “Paradise” and, beyond that, the final consummation of all things.