The Word in Peace, Good Friday: Take Comfort in Discomforts

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

“Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.” – Isaiah 53:4

I woke up groggy and congested, starting a cloudy day alone.

It’s Good Friday.

In the outside world, there are 15 Major League Baseball games to be played, Act One is showing at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on Broadway, and I-4 is starting to become congested as tourists descend on Disney World for a long weekend. But for Christians, today is not supposed to be a comfortable day.

One of the most spiritually meaningful Way of the Cross prayers that I have experienced was a few weeks ago, at Pax Christi Florida’s annual retreat, held on the grounds of the DaySpring Episcopal Conference Center about a half hour south of Tampa (pictured throughout the post). At the south end of the campus, on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Manatee River, the Stations of the Cross follow a dirt path that loops around.

But what made this special was the pure drabness of it all. It is the dry season in Florida, so the acres of estuarine tall grass along the river were brown. There were palm trees with no fronds. There were dimly colored air plants hanging off the tree branches. There was mud pocked with the burrows of fiddler crabs. And on this particular day, it was humid and overcast ahead of an approaching cold front and the mosquitoes were biting.

It was not so uncomfortable that I was distracted from meditation. But it was uncomfortable enough for me to remember that the Way of the Cross is not a way of ease.

I don’t intend a pietistic discomfort for discomfort’s sake. I have no plans to whip myself on the back. Nor do I believe that suffering forced upon others can be justified in this light. Rather, my hope today is to meditate on the crosses the world, so that my token suffering will help me to never forget the very severe and very real sufferings around the world.

“By his wounds we were healed,” writes the author of Second Isaiah (53:5) in the First Reading. Whether the prophet was predicting the death of Jesus or just offering a template, the meaning remains true. When Jesus, by his own will, eschewed comfort and security for suffering and a horrible death, he offered that suffering to call attention to all the suffering in the world that is caused by sin.

Because of this, Jesus gets it, writes the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (4:15)” And Jesus himself developed empathy with human suffering, we, too can do the same.

As I was writing this, a mother duck with a row of ducklings in tow waddled past my window. On a gloomy day, toddling by me was the reminder that Good Friday does not tell the end of the story. The new life of the resurrection is around the corner. Perhaps that’s why John’s passion account spends less time on Jesus’ suffering and more on his determination.

So I anticipate that joy, but for now I fast. Today is for those who are suffering. Let’s pray for them.

 

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