The theme of Wednesday in Holy Week is suffering. Fasten your seatbelt:
The reading from Lamentations 2:1-9 is about the destruction of Jerusalem, “her gates have sunk into the ground.” The Apostle Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11, talks of not being “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” And Mark 12:1-11 quotes Jesus telling the rather hideous parable of the vine grower who sends his son to the vineyard where the tenants kill him.
Even the prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week underlines the theme of the day:
“Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed …”The other day, a couple people asked me why we seem to be “descending” into Holy Week. What’s with all this suffering? Can’t we get on with it and “ascend” to the glory of Easter?
Do we really have to “accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time”?
It is true that there are branches of Christianity that glorify suffering with self-flagellation and re-enactments of the crucifixion with real nails and real blood. The readings for today seem to feed into the masochism of those traditions.
So why do we descend at all? Why not get straight to Easter?
The descending is a reminder, first, of our own mortality, and that suffering inevitably accompanies life. Paul’s letters tend be filled with advice to “toughen up.”
The biblical writers are telling something more about the mystery of death. We will get to the new life of resurrection but first we pass through the wall of death. Rather than “accepting joyfully” our suffering, we should not be so quick to glorify death as “natural.” Death sometimes comes as a relief, and death sometimes comes quickly, but there is nothing good about death. Death is the ultimate enemy to be conquered because it robs of us of seeing the life that comes next.
And there is something else at work: Jesus goes to the Cross, not be emulated by us by glorifying his suffering, but rather he goes to the Cross to stand with us in our worst suffering – to suffer with us. We don’t have to re-enact suffering – there is plenty of it in our world to go around.
He goes to the Cross in a plea with us to end the suffering, to end the torture, to end the warfare. He pleads with us to not accept joyfully the sufferings of this world, but to bring end the violence, end the injustice– and eliminate the human-made crosses that kill people and create hells on earth. The traditional icon above symbolizes that by showing Jesus rescuing Adam and Eve from the gates of Hell and bringing them out of death and into new life.
This Holy Week each of us can do something that others might suffer a little less. It may not be huge, but it will be something:
Episcopal Relief and Development is our arm around the world that brings needed help and relief in places destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, disease, poverty and other calamities. Robert Ratdke, president of ERD will be with us April 22 at St. Paul’s and I hope you will join us to meet him. You can find out more about ERD and how you can contribute by clicking HERE.
The other organization I highly recommend: Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). These brave souls go to the most war ravaged lands of this earth to care for refugees and those caught in the crossfire. They advocate with governments for relief, and at no small risk to themselves. Please contribute to CIVIC by clicking HERE.
May you have a blessed Holy Week, and may your walk this week bring you to a closer awareness of the divine within you.
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux