We've just listened to Luke's account of the last hours of Jesus, the final hours of the best and most honest man who ever lived on Earth. As we listen to the story being told, following Jesus step by step through his sufferings, our minds may not be able to take it all in at once. It seems as though just when things couldn't get any worse for Jesus, things got worse for Jesus!
What does it mean to us that this strong, compassionate, loving and caring man – barely in his early thirties – suffers so horrible a death? What does it mean to us when Jesus utters his last words on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” then takes his final breath, lowers his head and dies? What it means, of course, is that God withholds nothing from us, not even his cherished Son. The significant consequence of Jesus' suffering and dying is that it gives meaning to our suffering and dying.
At every Sunday Liturgy, we pray the Creed together. In that Creed we pray: “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.” Have you noticed that our lives are following the pattern of Jesus' life? When Jesus is hurt by people who ignore him or dismiss him, he suffers, as do we when people ignore or dismiss us. When Jesus experiences the death of his close friend Lazarus, he weeps; as do we when we lose a family member or dear friend. When Jesus sees people sick and disabled, he stops to help and heal them. We do the same by visiting and praying for people to help them heal. When Jesus is blamed for the sins and faults of others, he suffers tremendously, as do we when we are falsely accused. We may suffer in different ways, but we all suffer, and suffering is painful – oh, so very painful – in mind, in heart, in body!
Sometimes this suffering is due to life circumstances over which we have little or no control; other times we surely are to blame. Jesus' suffering is totally blameless, and it ends on the cross with his last breath. Our suffering too will end with our last breath. We hope to say at that final moment: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
Notice too in Luke's Gospel that Jesus accepts his suffering without blame, without resentment, without condemning his accusers. In fact, Jesus forgives them! He does so because he knows he is truly beloved by “Abba,” his “Daddy.” That knowledge keeps him strong through all his suffering. We too are thoroughly beloved by our “Abba” God. That knowledge keeps us strong through all our pain.
This Gospel of Jesus' passion might seem to an outsider to be deeply sad and troubling, a gray day with no redeeming qualities, but it is not. Walking with Jesus through this day of his Passion can break our hearts; but it's truly the best of days, the most hopeful of days, because it tells us how deeply we are loved, and because this day has tremendous redeeming qualities. Without suffering and dying, there is no resurrection! It is only through suffering and dying that we can experience resurrection into the new and abundant life awaiting us. Yes, “we do 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.” AMEN!