We are in the midst of a time commonly referred to as Holy Week—the days leading up to the celebration of Easter. In contrast to the joy and triumph of Easter, these days are marked by the remembrance of Jesus' suffering as religious leaders became more desperate in their plotting and the crowd's shouts of exultation morphed into a cry of condemnation. It is a heavy and somber time, even with the anticipation of celebration.
All of this raises the question: why is there so much emphasis on suffering? Isn't the joy of Easter the bigger point?
Connecting Through Suffering
On University of Northwestern's campus, this week's daily chapel sessions focused on the suffering of Holy Week. It started with Dr. Edward Glenny, professor of New Testament Studies and Greek, and his thoughts on Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem with his eyes set on the cross. Later in the week, the discussion moved to personal suffering. As faculty and students shared stories of connecting with God through—and in spite of—pain filled circumstances, the emotional weight of their experiences was palpable. There is something about sharing stories of tragedy that disarms and unifies us.
The tragedy in Brussels is fresh example of a terrible loss tying humanity together. Struggle reminds us of mankind's common weakness. Not all suffering is the same, but we relate because everybody has suffered.
Perhaps we can no better relate to our savior than when we see him betrayed, abandoned and mistreated. We can relate to feeling overwhelmed and earnestly asking our Heavenly Father to "take this cup from me" (Mark 14:35-36). Our hearts break for Jesus because our hearts have been broken too. The Bible affirms the value of this shared experience of grief.
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" Hebrews 5:7"8 (NIV)
Our faith is distinguished by this dichotomy of grief and joy. We mourn freely because we know there is comfort. We do not fear righteousness because we have confidence in grace. Jesus shares in our death so we can share in His resurrection. We rejoice in both suffering and deliverance because our Jesus is sovereign over all.
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)