This morning I sat at my desk lost in the agony of the cross. The agony of the cross is never far from us not just on this Friday but every day. We experience it in our own sufferings and of those we love. We watch it on TV in the agony of families who lost their children and their loved ones in Flight 370 and South Korean ferry disaster. We watch its ongoing unfolding in the horrors unfolding in Syria, the Ukraine and other parts of the world. Why? Why? Why? we cry and there are no easy answers.
I had just received a Facebook note from my good friend Michelle Ruetschle. You may remember several years ago when her husband Steve had an accident that left him as a quadriplegic and the amazingly miraculous recovery he made. He is now walking, and working once more as pastor in the Philippines. Now one of their sons has developed Type 1 diabetes. Michelle’s bravery in the midst of this new agony is a wonderful reminder to me of how all of can respond in the situations of life that make us feel, like Jesus that we are abandoned, persecuted and despised.
My ten year old is already an expert, not only in his care but in his attitude. But as his mother, I count the cost and gather up the shards of freedom left in the aftermath of the disease. To do anything less would be to miss the courage and responsibility Jude exhibits daily.
A few brave friends looked our situation in the face, and with voices thick with tears, said, “Too much.” I was grateful for the absence of placation and appeasement, that allowed it to be a very bad thing that had happened to our son. We rise and smile so that it is not too much, especially for others, especially for him. But behind the capability and the making the most of things, this, like so many other things, is not the way it should be. Just as no child should hunger or thirst or suffer neglect, no child should be poked and prodded throughout their day. No child should worry about every bit of food that passes their lips. No child should be woken in the night to make sure they are not dangerously low. I should not know the ICU nurses so well. While we are going to be okay, and while Jude will be able to do many things in life, it is also all right to acknowledge that this is not, actually, okay.
Today is Good Friday. In Manila, the stores are closed, the city hushed, the traffic scarce. Last night, as we ended our Maundy Thursday service, the lights dimmed and Steve ripped the covering off of the altar and left it messy on the floor. He limped from the sanctuary. We processed out in darkness and silence. I am glad for a God that does not turn away from suffering. I am grateful that he wept in the garden on the night he was betrayed. I am grateful that he wanted friends to stay awake with him and pray. They did not. I am grateful that he still considered them friends.
It is sometimes considered a sick thing that as Christians we remember our Savior through blood and a broken body, that we gather to worship around a Roman torture instrument, the cross. But if I am honest about my own brokenness, and as I look out upon a world that suffers far more than I could ever know, I am grateful for the language of suffering that is so central to our faith. His sacrifice was costly. Today we turn and look that cost in the face: the beatings, the mockery, the crown of thorns, and yes, the Roman instrument of torture, the cross. We cannot weigh the spiritual suffering, the heaviness of our sin and shame, the separation from the Father, that drove the pain still deeper. But we can honor it by acknowledging it, by looking it in the face with whatever courage we can muster.
It is deeply troubling, as it should be. His suffering is troubling. Our sin is troubling. The suffering that abounds in the world is troubling. But as we shift our gaze from the suffering itself to the love that caused him to willingly hang there, it is also heartrendingly beautiful. We see him extending grace to an undeserving thief. We see him forgiving us even as we did the harmful deed. We suffer because we must. He suffered because he loved. The love has a transformative effect. The sweetness mingles with the bitter, just as love mingles with our sin, and shifts what is true. The cross becomes not only an instrument of torture but the instrument of our redemption. The curtain is forever torn asunder. We enter in.