Church of Our Saviour

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Coming to the Cross: Suffering & Evil Face God’s Love

Dear Friends,

As a small child, my mother-in-law was made to attend a church which seemed to glorify suffering for suffering’s sake and which believed in a wrathful God who needed pacifying for all the sins of humanity, so sent his Son to be the one to suffer. She had the good sense, even as a child, to know that any God who was like that was not someone she wanted to know. The theology was toxic and she knew it. Sadly, it was the only theology she knew, so as soon as she was able she broke with her Christian roots.

Thirty five years later, I was standing in her kitchen when she blurted out, ‘Why do you have as your central symbol a sign of torture and death?” I was shocked—I had never seen it like that, and yet she was right, on one level that is exactly what it is. I had no good answer for her at the time, but it was a question which certainly fueled my desire to have an adult understanding of the mystery of Jesus’ cross which fit with the God of love I knew in Jesus.

Since then I have come to understand that the cross, the place where “the Crucified One spoke his last words and breathed his last breath is the place where suffering and evil are met squarely by the love of God.” At the foot of the cross we don’t need to pretend that our suffering is not real. Nor need we fear that our suffering will overwhelm us. Because the cross is planted before us, we can finally open ourselves to the reality of suffering and evil: Here all suffering and evil are touched by Love. Here, through the grace of God, we see what it is to give everything, all of ourselves to God’s cause of reconciling a broken world. We see the costliness of that path in a world which does not tolerate God’s passion for justice. But here we also see that through the grace of God, “all suffering and evil are endured, absorbed, and transformed.” (Adapted from Christ’s Passion, Our Passions, by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas)

It is sad to me that many Christians, even lifelong Episcopalians, still associate the cross with a glorification of suffering for suffering’s sake. To be fair, there are plenty of hymns and prayers which seem to go along with that toxic theology. Consequently in the community, I see less and less willingness to participate in Holy Week and more and more desire to skip over the “unpleasantness” of Holy Week, and simply come to Easter looking for the joy. I am sad because that kind of “joy” has no power to draw us more deeply into the heart of God’s compassion such that we find new freedom to live fully.

I pray that as Lent comes to an end, we share the power of gathering in the planned protest of Palm Sunday and see the connections with the issues of our day, that on Maundy Thursday, we share in the power of being the kind of community that is not built on pretense—even the kind that washes each other’s imperfect feet, that we will go all the way to the Cross with Jesus on Good Friday, as we allow Jesus to share the burden of our suffering, and THEN on to find that all of it, together, is truly the way of life—and it is the way of true joy.

May our Holy Week and Easter carry us deeper into the heart of God’s compassion for us and our world. There true joy is to be found!



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