Cross found in tree from 1798 battlefield.
There’s an old saying that coming events cast their shadow. The events of Palm Sunday and Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem were completely overshadowed by what was to come later in the week with the horror of his passion and death. It is against the backdrop of the worldwide suffering caused by the Corona Virus that we reflect this year on Psalm Sunday.
The most difficult thing to come to terms with is human suffering whether our own or others. At the global level it’s just too much to comprehend at present and is most disturbing. At a personal level its something that none of us can escape from and it’s at that level alone that we are forced to try and make sense of it.
Just how do we deal with suffering when it lands on our doorstep? To say rather glibly that God makes the shoulder to bear the burden seems far too simplistic in the face of the many who have more suffering than a thousand lifetimes should bring. I met a lady some time ago who could say in all truth that in fifty years she had only known two days of happiness, the day of her wedding and the day her first child was born. Suffering can, and often does, destroy our potential and our capacity to be human. The poet WB Yeats once said that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’. Suffering also has the capacity to help us overcome indifference the needs of others, and make us more compassionate and caring. It depends entirely on us, and what we do with it; since it can either make us or break us.
Like so many of you, I have gone through times of darkness and struggle but thank God and with His help have always come out the other end and usually with a deepened sense of faith. Like diamonds that are mined from the deepest earth we often find gems of wisdom when at our lowest. In a strange way going through a time of darkness we often see things more clearly than in the light. Its like the stars, we would never see them if it were continuous daylight. Suffering does have the potential to stop us dead in our tracks and force us to question what is important, what are our core values and what do we really believe in. Sometimes compassion is not learned or even awakened without suffering. It is also true that while we are suffering we are most open to truth. So a gift of the Corona virus is to give humankind one of its most teachable moments in history.
There’s an oriental piece of wisdom that says: When fate throws a dagger at you there are only two ways to catch it: either by the blade or by the handle. If you catch it by the blade it will injure you severely. If you can catch it by the handle you can use it to fight your way through to the other side. The many obstacles that come our way in life can also be challenges through which we can grow and take us to new places of achievement.
When it comes to suffering there is one thing we need to be very careful of not doing, that is, blaming God for it. When we are inclined to be most harsh and judgmental towards ourselves it is all to easy to think that Gods hand is against us and dealing out the punishment we deserve.
As we begin Holy Week we see Jesus as the innocent and sinless one going down the road of suffering before us taking our human pain on himself and coming out the other end. Jesus didn’t die in order to save us from suffering but he did die to teach us how to suffer in order to get through it.
One of his key lessons was, acceptance of what is, as the key to moving forward. In the Garden of his anguish we can see a progression in his prayer. First it was: Let this chalice pass from me, while later he prayed: This cup which the Father has given me, I will drink. Without acceptance we remain stuck with a sense of victimhood and injustice.
Another key lesson was his attitude towards those who were causing his pain. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Without forgiveness we get stuck in bitterness and resentment.
Finally towards those he met along the way, like the women of Jerusalem, he considered them even more than himself. Weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children. Without consideration for the pain of others as much as our own we can get stuck in self-pity.
Right in the midst of his passion he never seemed to lose the capacity to care and therein lay his nobility and greatness. It is no different for us.