Paradise is a long, long way from the cross.
Paradise was the walled garden of the Persian kings. It was their oasis, the place they would host their most privileged guests. To be in paradise, was to be welcomed into the company of the most powerful figure.
Jesus and two other criminals were nailed to their crosses, dying. They had been excluded and condemned. They were the official outsiders: naked and shamed. Visible to all, they became living examples of the fate of non-compliance. It was a long way from the cross, to Paradise.
But Jesus spoke of Paradise from the cross. He did not speak of Paradise merely to offer comfort, merely to ease the pain of his companions, with thoughts of the blissful afterlife that awaited.
To be on the cross, is to be the ultimate outsider: excluded, banished, condemned. To be in paradise, is to be the ultimate insider: welcome, privileged, honoured.
Paradise is a long way from the cross, but the cross is the only way to get there.
Not because Christianity is the only way to heaven, so anyone who claims to be Christian is guaranteed a place in Paradise.
Not because we all have our cross to bear, because life is hard for everyone so you deserve to go to heaven when you die.
The cross is the only route to Paradise, because – one way or another – the crucifixion is the fate of those who serve this kind of Lord:
To follow this Jesus might mean to speak with a voice that can lose you friends and gain you enemies.
To follow this Jesus might mean to threaten those in power, and to face the consequences.
To follow this Jesus might lead you to forsake all you have, to learn that ‘sacrifice’ can be an actual experience, to take up your cross.
The way of the cross is the only route to Paradise.
But Paradise is a long, long way from the cross.