By: Melanie Williams
Reposted from the Episcopal Service Corps Lenten Series: http://episcopalservicecorps.org/lentwithesc-mwilliams/
My senior year of college, a well-loved professor asked me what I felt I must do. Not what I felt obligated to do because of forces outside of myself, but what I felt I must do because it was something that claimed me. Because it was an unavoidable part of myself, which when denied, cried out to be recognized and acted upon. Because it was as necessary to me as breathing. I had to think about it for some time. I’m not always sure if I have a thing like this. But after a while I answered, “I must be with those who suffer.” And after another moment, “Also, I must dance.”
Something we talked about often that year was a practice of holding grief and joy in the same breath. I see this practiced every week within the various congregations of St. John’s in Franklinton where we sing praises to God after gathering prayer requests about loved ones who have cancer, are imprisoned, suffer hunger, are homeless, have died. I see it in my work place when I hear the stories of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, violence, and persecution. They tell me about how they lost a spouse, a limb, a child, and follow it by their gratitude for being alive.
It’s far easier for me to doubt God in the midst of suffering. To critique God for God’s seeming indifference and silence. If justice is meant to come, why not now? Why the delay? This year has been characterized by this kind of wrestling with God. But when I do this, I think I am forgetting who God is and where God resides. Our God is the one who came to earth and died.
Isaiah says Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus was consistently among the suffering and suffered himself. I love the picture of Jesus we see in John when he says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” A similar scenario happens when Jesus is hanging on the cross. One of the criminals being crucified with him cries out to him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and save us!” But instead, Jesus remains in suffering until death. And in this, God’s glorification is complete and the saving act accomplished.
What brings me hope, what pulls me back into faith, what moves me to dance and know joy in the midst of suffering is this strange comfort that God remained in suffering and died. That God continues to be with us in our suffering, that God is also still suffering, and that we too are somehow “filling up what is missing in the sufferings of Jesus” as we suffer with Jesus in our world. And though I am terrified to say it, I think this is the heart of Christian discipleship, that we “fall into the earth and die.” That we live and work and love in the midst of those who suffer, and suffer ourselves because we love. And in the same breath, we remain in hope and joy because we have faith that God is with us, still suffering, until God is “lifted up from the earth, and draws all people to Godself,” lifting up all who suffer with God.