Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Space Between

Yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and today I am thinking about suffering. The story of Jesus dying on the cross is one I know well. Between my nine years at an Evangelical Christian school, church, summer camps, and youth groups, I have probably heard this story more than any other, except maybe the Christmas story.

When I was very young, the crucifixion gave me nightmares. But as I got older, I got so used to hearing the story that it didn't make much of an impression on me. I would go through the motions of being chastened by it, but it seemed much more like trivia. I learned how the nails actually had to go through Christ's wrists and the mechanics of actually dying on a cross (suffocation).

For the past several years, I haven't heard the story as much. Last night, I went to a neighborhood Good Friday service where they were reading aloud the chapters about Jesus's death from John. I was struck by the details.

I thought about the Roman soldiers dividing up Jesus's clothes and it occurred to me that this was all that Jesus had with him. If he had anything else, they would have divided that up as well, but he only had the clothes on his back. His friends had abandoned and betrayed him, the soldiers had beaten and mocked him, and in the end, he even felt that God had forsaken him. Jesus had nothing left when he died.

I also thought about Mary standing at the foot of the cross. I have known mothers who have lost their children, and I can imagine few things more devastating than seeing your child tortured and killed. Although Jesus suffered greatly, this story is also about the suffering of those who loved him.

The detail that really upset me was how casually the soldiers broke the legs of the men on either side of Jesus. Breaking a grown man's legs is such a violent image, it really made me realize how excruciating Jesus's death must have been.

There is so much suffering in the world. The recent troubles we have had in this country are small compared to the violence, hunger, fear, and despair that so many people face on a daily basis. Because the suffering of the world is so overwhelming, we hide from it by putting it into institutions or ignoring those places in need. The story of the crucifixion forces us to confront suffering, but it also reminds us that even in our greatest pain, God is there too.

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