“I have been crucified with Christ. It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and has given himself up for me.”(Galatians 2:20-21)
Dismas: A Great Name for a Rock Band
When I moved to Southeast Louisiana in 2002 two of my brothers in law and another friend were a band that had recently lost a lead singer. They recruited me into what was already a pretty loud, hard hitting, and existentially achy take on modern rock with Catholic roots. The band had been called Fable Tree, because, well … it was the 1990’s/ early 2000’s. When I came on board, we started looking for a new name. I remember Aimee, my then fiancé, being part of a meeting where we listed off several hilarious alternatives. (Legend Hedge, Story Bush, Myth Shrub … you get the idea.) After weeks of agonizing, someone suggested the name Dismas. We all immediately got behind it.
Why Dismas? Well, for one, it worked as a slightly edgy post grunge band name. More importantly though, it is the name given via tradition to the good thief described in Luke 23. Dismas hung next to Christ and defended him against Gesmas (Gestas), the name we give to the other thief who persisted in his bitterness. The name and person of Dismas fit the sound and vision of our music and for me it became a deeply personal vision of the human condition and even the heart of the Christian Faith.
I am Dismas
When I thought about and prayed with the story of Dismas as told in Luke’s Gospel, a meditation on suffering grew in my interior life. It seems that I have spent my life hanging next to Christ. The doom of suffering unto death, in its varying levels of intensity, is mine. Because of sin, it is what I deserve. At the risk of escalating this too quickly, I’ll just go right for it and say this: my sentence is death. I am terminal. There is no escaping pain, hurt, or anguish and death will come for me. While so much around me is designed to distract, numb, and deny it, the fact remains; I will suffer and I will die.
When I fail to numb that reality away and breath in the ache of my mortality, I am left with two paths. One is to curse God, mock Christ, and rail on in my bitterness until I am finally silenced by death, like Gesmas (Gestas). The other is to look over at the bleeding and suffocating Christ beside me and to console his heart with an outcry of faith and repentance, like Dismas.
Scripture tells us nothing of the method of Dismas’ crucifixion, but in my own meditative imagination Dismas was nailed, like Christ. In his final hours, as he pulled himself up by the nails to take a breath, he rose and fell on his cross in harmony with Christ. Dismas’ wounds were conformed to Jesus’ wounds and the entire shape and meaning of his life was transformed. In the bridge of one of our songs we expressed it this way:
“Pointing to this day.
Clean blood and water.
Pressing my wounds to your own.”
I have this vision to sustain me in rough moments. When any given day is full of agony, I know that I do not hang on my cross alone and I can turn my gaze to the one crucified next to me. I see that I deserve my cross, while he is innocent, and I can immediately perceive the way he is looking at me. His eyes are full of mercy. It changes everything.
So you clicked on this post and you are still reading. I’m going for it then: Whether you are a daily Mass goer or a drug dealer, whether you are suffering with a hangnail or a terminal illness, whether you are young or old, rich or poor; know this: you do not hang alone. If your cross is anxiety, unemployment, divorce, garden variety stress, poverty, chronic pain, or slow internet connection … you do not hang alone. Look over next to you. Make eye contact with the one who is innocent and crucified. Rebuke the voices of complaint, bitterness, and despair and call on his mercy. I am Dismas and so are you. The whole lot of us face a terminal sentence. Nothing we buy, nothing we invent or do can keep us from our doom. We will all suffer and we will all die, but this is not the last word, at least it does not have to be.
Look into the eyes of Christ and pray this right now:
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”(Luke 23:42)
Can you hear the response? It is a promise, sealed in blood and agony, that you will be remembered. Count on it.
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About Colin MacIver
Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides.