This was a message I gave at chapel a little over a week ago.
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Lord come and see.”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Grace to you and peace.
And although I wish you peace, the peace that passes all understanding, I have had a hard time feeling much lately except sorrow, disappointment and a lack of comprehension.
There is no doubt that we live in a dark world, that our understanding is so muted that we “see through a glass darkly.” No one could deny that in the world you will have trouble; one merely has to read a bit of the daily news. I tell my students I don’t watch horror films because I know too much history. But often it seems removed; we gasp at the awfulness. It is usually not happening to us.
It is when tragedy comes hurtling into our own life that we have to face impermanence, chaos and God’s seemingly impenetrable will and our lack of access to it.
C.S. Lewis says that part of every misery is the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.
It is like a double darkness. A dread for the hours ahead.
I think Jesus thought about suffering, and because he was human, he thought about his own, and experienced it. It became an embodied emotion for him – the stomach ache, the trembling hands, the gargled moaning. The feeling that the world just listed, and what was familiar becomes strange and alien. And of course, the tears, the all too human mucus, the cracked lips, the sore ribs from the heaving.
We know that the Bible records Jesus weeping three times, and each time I think he wept for what he was losing – his friend, his dignity, his life, his city. Who knows how many other times he wept which were not written down? Forgotten angst.
But because he was better than human, I think we can assume that he also wept for other folks out of empathy and compassion. For our human suffering and misunderstanding and how we must move through darkness, groping our way with bloodied hands and parched throats, groaning in our spirits.
Jesus wept at death. And I think he also wept at the ways we miss life. The times we cannot see the light. It is like being shut in a dark cellar with a flashlight and not knowing the flashlight is there. Or perhaps worse, having the flashlight in your hands and not figuring out how to turn it on.
And I do not mean to create such an opposition of light and dark. For in the hushed sacred night we can receive solace and sleep. And in the harsh light of day we can see error and foolishness.
Like everything in life, and in death, there is not a simple formula. Jesus is not about easy platitudes. When the spindle of ice – whether it be doubt or loss or anxiety – creeps or crashes into our consciousness, what can nourish us, sustain us, in the dark night of the soul?
What if we asked God to come and see our brokenness? To ask to be seen is a terrifying thing, really. To let ourselves be known. There are masks we hide in, from ourselves, from the world, from God. It takes courage to really live, to truly pay attention to both the hurt and the beauty in our lives, and to pay attention to the people in our lives, for to treasure them is to risk losing them. Take heart, Jesus says. Courage.
Embracing the terrible, lovely, amazing and awful aspects of life is the gateway to experience and to God. And you may think it is easy, but it’s not. It’s easy to be numb in the detritus of the day. To measure out our life in coffee spoons, as TS Eliot said.
Barbara Brown Taylor claims that deep in our depths is where the treasure is – way down in the mine where the deep veins of your own beauty and trouble lie – where there are bats and slimy things along with treasure, and a brawny angel waiting to jump on your back for a wrestling match in the dark.
When Jesus tells us to take heart, I think that is what he is getting at. Believe that your life has a plot, has meaning. Terrible things will happen, no doubt. But He has overcome the world, he says, and maybe that is where the light is. That sliver of light in the darkness.
Life can change suddenly, without warning. Or there can be too much time to think about it.
In his grief Jesus asks God, as he suffers public execution, “Why have you forsaken me?”
But just hours earlier, in the warmth and comfort of his closest friends, enjoying the very human act of eating and drinking, conquering hunger and driving away thirst, he had told those who loved him and who he loved, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.” He knew the pain and the valley they all would have to walk in. Yet he has the courage and, let’s face it, the audacity to say, “take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Is Jesus’ own doubt and fear juxtaposed with his promise of peace supposed to make it all easier to understand?
For Dale Brown, this question of God’s presence and meaning haunted him. He wrote: “Is there a God who cares who walks along beside us?” And the answer is “maybe.” Just “maybe.” And the “maybe” provides enough light to live by.
When we suffer, it is not the existence of God that we may wonder about, it may be more a question of whether He cares. That is what Dr. Brown meant. How to explain the baffling ways of God? I do not know. But maybe through our dark times – whatever yours may be - we can struggle for peace, and we have the incandescence of hope.
I’ll leave you with some more words from Dr. Brown, who wrote them to me under different hard circumstances:
“I still have the feeling that all will be well somehow. You will be ok and then some. You will survive and then some.”
No one can carry your individual sorrows, the things that haunt you. You will carry them with you and they will become a part of who you are. This is as true for me as it is for you. As it was for even the Christ. But because there is that wild and improbable hope that Jesus has overcome the world, they do not have to always define you. I pray that we can all find the switch on the flashlight and that it works when we turn it on. Or, even more startling, that we realize we were not in a cellar after all, and the light is all around us. I pray for your peace and mine.