There are things you never get over as a pastor, people you carry, though they have died, memories so stark and poignant, that they still bring one to tears, even after years. Coming into Holy Week puts me, at least, in the center of some of those painful memories and experiences that members of our congregation and those in our extended communty have undergone: the deaths of spouses, or children, or parents, the losses of jobs or health, divorce or painful separations, the interruptions of war and other national or international crises.
How do we carry each other’s burdens? How do we comfort each other, when all comfort seems beside the point, that what happens or has happened simply leaves us in a sorrowing silence? There are people I look at every day, and see what they have lost, or what they currently struggle with. And I can’t tell them that. I can’t go up to them and say, when I see you, I want to say I am praying for you, and thinking of you, that I try to support you every day as best I can. At such times, I fall back on the promise that the Spirit prays always within us, with sighs to deep for words. And I pray that God will ease their pain.
This is especially the case at the communion table, and the intimacy of offering the bread and wine. When each person comes forward to recieve, I know that they are getting the most precious comfort there is. The bread and wine that Christ gives is nourishment that heals, the bread of angels, the cup of salvation. Here is mercy, and a meal of the risen life.
On the side of hope and peace, in the midst of all this “ordinary human suffering,” as one of my friends calls it, in the midst of these human struggles, everyday, I see faithful people offering each other words of Gospel kindness, or tending those in need. Someone visits a sick person in the hospital, and brings good will, hope and cheer. Another drops soup off at someone’s home. One person goes over to an elderly neighbor’s home every night to help the person get into bed. Someone else drops off flowers, a surprise gift after surgery. Neighbors care for each other’s children in an emergency. Across the country a traveling friend is ill, and back here, someone activates the prayer chain. A couple offers a ride to church every week for someone who doesn’t have a car. People empty their pockets and purses for victims of earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. After such disasters, they send health kits to replenish the depleted supplies of the Lutheran World Relief organization.
Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross. This obedience doesn’t mean we seek suffering or crosses. Crosses come to us just because we are in the world. We often can’t bear them, and we certainly can’t bear them alone. In these times of suffering, the arms of Jesus stretch out for us in the arms of friends who carry us, and hold us, and comfort us. A voice on the end of the phone offers the simple solace of checking in. A card with words of kindness, even an email , touches the heart of someone who is hurting.
Lent’s austerities are there to help us be strong for the spiritual and material battles we do face. They help us hear more clearly the voices of those who are suffering. It’s a time when we can bring our own suffering to God, and ask for consolation. We can bring our burdens and lay them down. This is a time of seeing our common humanity in our bonds of mutual need, and in our bonds of mutual love. As followers of Jesus, if we have fasted, it’s because we are called to be in solidarity with those who are hungry, or in need. And we discover that we don’t live by bread alone. If we have given alms, it’s because we are called to a life of sharing and self-giving, and we discover that dying to our self-concern leaves more room for loving, more room for others. If we have prayed, it is because we are called to a life of companionship with God, to a holy conversation begun by God. And we discover again, and again, and again, that we are beloved.