On Sunday morning as we celebrated Christ’s victory over suffering and death we sang, “The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over, the storm is passing over, Hallelu.” We spent the season before that sweet moment paying attention to the storm. We were asking again and again, “How does my suffering make a difference?” We looked at what Jesus was doing in the gospel of Mark and saw 6 ways he was helping us answer that question. Our suffering is Not for Nothing (that’s the tag line we gave the season). In case you missed it, these are the 6 ways your suffering makes a difference:
1 – It changes our relationship with fear – We were with Jesus and the wild beasts in the desert for forty days – Jesus’ model for the Lenten discipline.
2 – It encourages others to be vulnerable with you – We recognized the woman with the issue of blood who showed her great need and demonstrated her great faith.
3 – It teaches you that grief and loss can be generative – After Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist he retreated to “a lonely place” but a crowd followed him, and even in his place of grief God generated a great miracle – the feeding of the 5,000.
4 – It prepares you for death – Jesus predicts his death a lot in Mark, but the disciples don’t get it. They’re still surprised. We were trying to “get it” a bit more.
5 – It calls you to simplicity – The challenge of wealth and material possessions is real. Our financial difficulties may make us better followers. All of us, regardless of our circumstances, are called to simplicity: the value of refusing excess and cultivating generosity.
6 – It changes how you think about joy – On Palm Sunday Jesus was celebrated by some of the same people who later called for his crucifixion. He knew this sorrow but went with the joy of the moment. We were trying to go with joy as a discipline and not just a feeling.
Our congregation on Marlton Pike did an exercise that lasted the whole season. As we worked through all of these heavy themes we were trying to stay present to our suffering. We were acknowledging that everyone hurts. Suffering is inevitable, so what does it mean for a Christian? Every Sunday Meeting, we were invited to choose from an assortment of random, ordinary objects at the center of our meeting room. The instructions were to assign one thing we were suffering to that object. If we were feeling physical pain, we might choose a band aid (pretty direct connection there), or if our suffering made us feel weak we might choose a dead leaf because it was brittle (a bit more abstract). The ordinariness of the objects helped us accept our suffering as ordinary and figure out how to let God use it for transformation. This is an art. Our symbolic action was an artful way to express our desire and the truth promised to us in 1 John 1:5-7:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We carried our objects of suffering across the room and put them in a spotlight, which was God’s light for us. The pile of suffering that accumulated there shared a table with the communion meal, that symbol of Christ’s suffering and death – his broken body and his spilled blood. We kept coming back to the table, leaving our suffering in the light and receiving that communion from Jesus. Connection to him was the solution, even though the suffering continued.
In celebration of the scandalous hope of the resurrection, the pile of suffering was transformed for Easter Sunday. We looked at how our suffering had changed, and walked past our suffering and stood ourselves in the light. We stood at the once black table, now white, and were invited to renew our baptism, that symbol of identification with Jesus in his death and resurrection as Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4:
All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
The pictures throughout this post document the process and the transformation. Our liturgists, those that lead us in the action of the people in worship (“liturgy” literally means “the work of the people”), are wonderful people that helped us know God, walk in the light, have fellowship with one another, and live a new life, in real life.
This post is for those who missed it, or didn’t get it while it was happening, or were affected by it so much that they want to remember it. How has God been with you through suffering? How has your suffering made a difference? As we shared on this blog yesterday, the point of Lent is to make it to the end with Jesus – all the way through death to resurrection. At our resurrection Sunday celebration in the morning on Lemon Hill, six of us told stories of how they had been made different. It’s not too late to tell your story, because this death to life thing goes on forever (literally).