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The Chalice
Friday, October 05 2018

After several weeks (it seemed longer) reading Job as the Old Testament lesson for Morning Prayer, the committee that put together the Episcopal edition of The Revised Common Lectionary decided that twenty-nine days with evil, pain, suffering, and redemption at the last (thank goodness) were insufficient and made Job the First Lesson for four successive Sundays. Supplement that decision with a phrase from today's selection from Hebrews that suggests that with suffering comes perfection—“...should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect (italics mine) through suffering”—and one is sorely tempted to shout “Enough already.” I am neither wise nor gifted enough to tackle this subject in any depth in The Chalice (or even in this morning's sermon), but I do have some ideas to offer, ideas that refuse to run away and hide, that demand attention, ideas that I hope you will take the time to explore on your own or with others, ideas that will aid us as we lock horns with the dilemmas of evil, pain, and suffering.

  1. The Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week: “Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed....
  2. “It is not the glowing prospect of a happy afterlife, but the experienced happiness of being in a state of grace while in throes of agony that released the wonderful powers in the martyrs.” (Max Scheler, The Meaning of Suffering)
  3. “The Christian doctrine of suffering asks for more than a potent toleration of suffering....The pain and suffering of life fix our spiritual vision on the central, spiritual goods of...the redemption of Christ.” (Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)
  4. “Resurrection is not just consolation—it is restoration. We get it all back...but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.” (Luke Ferry, Brief History)
  5. “I only knew Jesus was all I needed when He was all I had left.” (Canon Andrew White reporting what a man who had suffered in Iraq said to him)
  6. “If God is no exception—if even he has suffered—then we cannot say he doesn't understand...or that he is a cold king who lets things happen without caring about what we are going through.” (Peter Berger in Timothy Keller's Walking with God through Pain and Suffering)
  7. “Jesus Christ suffered, not so that we would never suffer but so that when we suffer we would be like him. His suffering led to glory.” (Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering)

It is difficult to engage such observations, even painful, but that doesn't let one off the hook and so I always look for help and often find it in great writers, in prayer, in the never failing Passion of our Lord. One of those writers admitted candidly that he was a great coward with regard to pain, that when he thought of it, of “anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert,...of dull aches that blacken the landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man's heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased,” his spirit is dashed. I read these words; I think of the cross; I conclude, “John, you're never alone.” As we will sing at the end of the service, this “God of glory,” this “Lord of love” whom we worship and adore not only “Melts the clouds of sin and sadness” and drives away “the dark of doubt,” but also gives to us “immortal gladness” and “fill(s) us with the light of day.” Those are no empty words; they are the sure and certain hope of the gospel. My spiritual guide reminded me that he could not make palatable the old Christian belief of 'being made perfect through suffering'; rather that it was not incredible.

With all blessings for joy on the journey toward the cross and the crown. 

Fr. John+

Posted by: Rev. John Morrison AT 12:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email