There were times I spoke rather casually about Jesus’ suffering and death without first fully reflecting on the gravity of his sacrifice. We feel pain even by a tiny splinter stuck in our hands. What suffering would it be to have nails pierced through your wrists and feet? Just one hurtful word, one hateful glance is hard to put behind. What pain would it be to have the whole crowd mocking your pain and spitting on your face? The weight of betrayal by disciples, the violent turn of the crowds that once followed with shouts of “Hosanna” – the magnitude of it all is hard to grasp. I look back and repent my indifference.
But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.” He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but breathing his last, he declared the fulfillment, “It is finished,” and died saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” It strikes me anew how I assumed to know Jesus without persisting to enter deeper into the meaning of his suffering and death. And without such efforts, I crafted sermons and preached about Jesus being my Lord and Savior of the world.
I remember a prayer listed in Rev. Lee Hyun-joo’s book, “The Death of Jesus”: “Hearing the mockery to jump off the cross, you died hanging on the tree. Thank you, Lord. For all the weak and helpless of the world, a simple phrase, ‘Jesus had it too,’ is a consolation that brings us back on foot. Thank you, Lord, for not jumping off the cross that day.” For Jews who asked for signs, Crucified Christ was a scandal and a stumbling block. For Greek philosophers who pursued reason, giving your life on the cross was foolishness that accomplished nothing. But for the weak and helpless of the world, Crucified Christ is the reason to pray, “Thank you, Lord, for not jumping off the cross that day.”
A year-long pandemic-induced stillness practice has helped me grow more reflective and less reactive. Whatever the situation I may be facing, I’ve been remembering to take a step back and recollect my breath before responding. I tried to see beyond the visible human action and reflect on what God is doing through the situation. This spiritual practice helped me not only to mitigate the physical effects of stress, but also to prevent impulsive judgments about the motives of others. It helped to see in a new light many of the things and circumstances I used to take for granted. “One of the secrets of life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks,” I texted someone who has been lately experiencing a lot of anxiety. That person was actually worried on my behalf, but I wanted us to see God’s purpose and intentions behind the visible issue at hand.
The advice I received since the early days in ministry was “Love all, trust God, but don’t trust people too easily.” But I still choose to live with trust in people rather than distrust, and I don’t regret the years I’ve lived with that choice. During an online reflection meeting a few days ago, when one member shared how she feels inadequate to take up a certain leadership role, I said in response, “In terms of human qualities, I wouldn’t qualify to be a pastor either.” It’s only by grace and love that our church members see a pastor in me and receive my sermon as the proclamation of the Word of God. There are no enough words to describe how much I’m grateful for this grace.
This Holy Week, I pray we open our eyes and enter deeper into the suffering of Christ and sufferings in the world. Opportunities to participate are everywhere. During the prayer service for Good Friday, we will read and reflect on the seven last sayings of Jesus on the Cross. The 14 Stations of the Cross will be set up for you to walk through the passion of Jesus and connect with the events of suffering happening in this day and age. Myanmar’s agony and struggle for democracy is the pocket of Jesus’ suffering. The tears shed from anti-Asian hate crimes is the pocket of Jesus’ suffering. Where there suffering from the coronavirus, there is Jesus suffering too, with his blood spilled to heal and recover. In all places where God’s children are suffering, Jesus is there also.
I repent, looking back on times I only skimmed the surface of the other’s suffering, including the suffering of Jesus on the cross. But for all my self-centeredness and shortcomings, Jesus suffered unto death; and on the third day he rose from the grave conquering all powers of sin. May this power of love and saving grace touch us ever more deeply this Holy Week.