No one likes to suffer. Especially for those of us in the Western culture, suffering represents pain, isolation, humiliation, failure and weakness. We do everything possible to avoid suffering and to separate ourselves from it. We lock up in padded rooms people who intentionally hurt themselves. We cannot wrap our minds around some of those early church fathers and martyrs who yearned for the priviledge to suffer for their faith. Suffering, for us, is an evil.
Take a look at how we rush through the Easter season these days. Very few Protestant churches today continue in the traditions of Lent and Holy week. We celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we pause to remember Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday and then we show up Easter Sunday morning ready to celebrate again.
We tend to gloss over the thirty-six hours or so between sunset on Friday (by which time Jesus had been placed into the tomb) and sunrise on Sunday (when the women returned to the tomb). We rarely pause to wait in the darkness of the despair they felt, to share in the tears of lost hope that they shed, to question everything we thought we knew like they did or to cry out to God as Jesus did on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Instead we skip to the last page. We forgo the struggles and head straight for our happy ending. We focus on the victory. And because we prefer a “health and wealth” gospel to one that includes trials and tribulations, we have lost the ability to lament. We avoid suffering like the plague and we despise those who suffer. “They must have done something wrong to deserve this,” we say, “They must not have enough faith.” We take on the mindset which Paul wrote against in his letter to the Corinthians, saying “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1Cor 1:23).
For, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was fond of saying, our God is a God who suffers. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
This year, don’t skip from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Pause in the darkness on Saturday and remember the God who suffers. The God who gave His life for us, the God who has raised us to new life. . .and the God who sits with us, cries with us and holds our hands in His pierced ones as we go through sickness and grief and trials and tribulations.
Read through the laments (try Psalm 22, 88 or 13) as they cry out to and question God. Then pour out your fears and worries and pain and let God comfort you. For He is no stranger to your pain.