Monday, April 02, 2012

Suffering

Monday, April 2, 2012 -- Monday in Holy Week
James Lloyd Breck, Priest, 1876

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)
Psalms  (morning) 51:1-18(19-20)       //        69:1-23 (evening)
Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12
2 Corinthians 1:1-7      
Mark 11:12-25  

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Note:  Today's Holy Week Eucharist is at 12:15


Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.
  (Lamentations 1:12)

The grief and pathos of Lamentations is so deep, and without consolation.  The ruin of city and people is so thorough that it will take several pages of anguished mourning before the poet will be able to turn to any expression of hope.  There are those situations that seem to have no promise or purpose other than loss and threat.  It is good to have words to use to give expression to hopelessness.  It is good to have the companionship of Lamentations among our holy writings to be an understanding friend when all appears dark.

Paul speaks to a different moment of suffering in today's letter to the Corinthians.  He has been through afflictions and miseries, presumably with the congregation he is writing to.  Something now has passed.  He has come through the crisis.  At some point he had experienced helplessness -- "Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." (1:9)  Now Paul is thankful to God "who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ."  (1:4-5)

We enter Holy Week today, and we already know how the story will turn out.  It seems important to me to remain within the earthly tension of the moment as we walk the way of the cross with Jesus.  After all, his disciples didn't know resurrection was coming.  When we are in the midst of tension, threat and suffering, we don't know that things will work out as they did for Paul and the church in Corinth.  Sometimes we find ourselves in hopeless situations, like the poet of Lamentations.  Sometimes it seems like we have "received the sentence of death." 

It seems to me that there is a great difference between suffering that is connected with some purpose and suffering that seems to have no real meaning.  Paul gained some comfort that his affliction was directed in his concern for the Corinthian congregation.  Even when it appeared that he was losing, he struggled with hope, relying on God to carry the day when it was beyond his power.  He suffered with and for his friends in Corinth even as he was consoled for them.  "Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation." (1:7)

"I felt your prayers." 
I've heard it said so many times by someone who has struggled with illness or threat.  It is meaningful when we know others share in our sufferings. 

The story of Holy Week tells us that human suffering is holy, human suffering has meaning, even when it appears most hopeless.  The central symbol of Christianity is the cross, an image of a human being in living death, hanging helplessly in tortured pain with no path of escape, the object of injustice and evil, condemned, humiliated, shamed.  A disciple or a mother looking on could only feel grief and helplessness.  From their perspective, as observers of Jesus' execution, they could only think how all their hopes were dying.  What loss.  It can only seem tragic and so meaningless.  Yet even as they suffer, God is using this event for the healing of the world.

When we find ourselves in misery, we can remember that Jesus has made our experiences of suffering holy.  Like Jesus, we can offer our own pain, our helplessness and hopelessness to God, asking God to use our suffering like God used Jesus' suffering, for the healing of the world.  In the dark mystery of the divine, God has shown us that even our most tragic loss still has meaning, for God used the cross for good.  God can take our suffering and transform it for good as well.

Help us give our suffering to you, O God.  Take our misery and tragedy, and use it as you used the cross.  

Lowell

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