Leaning Into Holy Week: Tuesday of Holy Week
"O Lord our God, whose blessed Son gave his back to be whipped and did not hide his face from shame and spitting: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Suffering is universal to human experience. Particularly brutal and intense suffering has given rise to one of the more perplexing tensions that the Christian tradition of theology has had to navigate: the problem of evil. How can a perfectly good God allow great suffering, pain, and evil? Most folks who come into any contact with even the idea of God have or will ask that question. And there is no shortage of theories and answers that the Christian use of theology and philosophy has offered to answer that question. A few of them may even be good and intellectually satisfying.
But all the theories in the world don’t feel worth much when we are actually suffering.
How can we, then, “joyfully accept” (as our Collect says) something as horrible as suffering? How can God ask us to go through a felt evil with joy? I will not attempt an exhaustive answer to these questions, but our Collect offers us at least begins an answer by highlighting two necessities for this to happen: grace, and confidence.
The only way we can begin to suffer joyfully is to have an experience of God’s grace: his new attitude of acceptance toward us in Christ and his supernatural power in us by the Spirit that renovates us from the inside out. Naturally speaking, we will almost always come out of suffering more bitter and angry and hurt than we entered it. But, if we have God’s own supernatural power in us and knowledge that he loves us perfectly, we can begin to see suffering as something that can actually draw us closer to Christ, who suffered in our place and in solidarity with us.
That overarching goal of the Christian life, conformity to and union with Christ, speaks to the other necessity: confidence. If we have confidence that all of our sufferings will be redeemed, that God will never leave us nor forsake us in our suffering, that one day every tear will be wiped from every eye and the joy of heaven will explode over the horizon and swallow up suffering for good, then we can endure anything. Even death.
And all this because Christ suffered and died and rose again for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.