There was a good religious woman who read the Bible every day. She especially treasured a verse from the prophet Isaiah which said "The lion will lay down with the lamb." One day she went to the county zoo and saw something she never thought she'd see: Inside the lion cage was a large, ferocious lion, and sitting right next to that lion was a lamb. In total amazement she called a zoo attendant and said, "How long have you had a lion and a lamb in that cage together?" The attendant replied, "Oh. More than a year now." The woman still couldn't believe what she saw. "That's amazing! How do you manage it?" she asked The attendant replied, "Oh, each morning we put a new lamb in there."
Lambs are not the only creatures of God that get hurt and eaten up by life. We all bear wounds and none of us is a stranger to pain. We stub our toes and burn our fingers. We get cancers, strokes and heart attacks. Our children disappoint us. Our parents disappoint us. Our spouses disappoint us. We disappoint them and ourselves! Our most cherished projects collapse. Our best ideas prove wrong. Our bodies hurt. Our spirits suffer.
What do we make of all this? Why so much suffering? It remains a mystery, and there is no satisfying answer. Some pain is of our own making, the consequence of things we do. We might say these pains are gifts in disguise. Pain warns us we are doing something hurtful to our bodies. My stomachache is telling me not to eat that much food at one meal. My hangover is warning me not to drink that much alcohol. I'm depressed because I keep losing money at the casino. I feel guilty when I tell lies to people. We may not like these feelings, but there are lessons to be learned here.
Pain is oftentimes considered to be punishment from God. I disagree. Pain can be a wake-up call, God's grace inviting us to change our ways. We're not alone. In today's Gospel Jesus promises not to leave us orphans. He promises us a Friend, the Spirit of Truth, to walk this journey with us, to give us strength to face whatever comes our way, to set our priorities in order. For us who believe in Jesus, who are baptized into his discipleship, there is every reason to endure pain and suffering, because without pain and suffering there is no resurrection, no abundant life to come. As we pray in our Liturgical Creed this morning, "We believe that each of us is situated in the love of God, and the pattern of our life will be the pattern of Jesus, through suffering and death to resurrection." "Through suffering and death." There is no other way!
Jesus is the ultimate Lamb, the Lamb of God sitting with the lion, totally innocent of wrong-doing, yet taking on the sins of the world. Jesus the Lamb suffers pain, indignity, frustration, disappointment, betrayal at the hands of others - our hands. Jesus, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, grant us peace and give us your Abiding Spirit to accompany us on our journey homeward. Amen!