Good Friday – Rising above the Ashes
Garden, Grave and Grace
Human life is strewn with many little nights of Gethsemane. There is no iota of doubt that each and every one of us has experienced the dark night of Gethsemane in our lives. The causes may be varied and innumerous; i) physical pain – threat to our health, incurable illness, excruciating chronic pain, risk of life, ii) emotional pain – the indifference of someone close to us, broken relationship and broken hearts, rejected by those we love, misunderstood or misrepresented. All this is pain and the litany of pain goes on and its experience is suffering.
It is immensely paradoxical that only Christianity among all the other religions of the world provides a rational and adequate explanation of suffering. In fact, it goes beyond giving a strong motive for suffering, this motive being the fact that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. But Christian suffering is not the mere experience of pain or even just the tolerance of pain. In the Christian philosophy of life, suffering is to be sanctified and the sanctification of suffering is called sacrifice. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless, we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. We cannot control what happens to us in life but we can always control what we will feel and do about what happens to us. Jesus Christ at Gethsemane is our model and guide. Gethsemane is a place where our lives are truly grounded or pressed to the core like the olives crushed to generate oil. In the light of Gethsemane, it is evidently palpable that there is no such thing as a worthless life or a meaningless human situation.
Christian Response to Suffering
Jesus at Gethsemane, submitted Himself to His Father in prayer. Jesus recognized the Hand of His silent Father behind the impending suffering and humbled His head in faith. Further, Jesus was aware that His Father had reasons for permitting what He had to endure and the experience of suffering will eventually be a source of grace to mankind forever. Our response to suffering should also be similar during our times of crisis. We only need to look at the Crucifix if ever we are tempted to doubt the value of suffering patiently, talk about value in suffering! But the value derives not from physical or spiritual pain. It comes from the Infinite God who showed us – this is God teaching us – by His own passion and death how profitable prayerful suffering can be. The most important single lesson mankind has to learn is the meaning of suffering and its value. It took God to teach us and He had to resort to the extreme expedient of becoming man and suffering Himself to prove to us that suffering is not meaningless: that it is the most meaningful and valuable experience in human life. Prayer should not be the last resort to overcome sufferings but it should be our first step in embracing our sufferings and having an appointment with God in the midst of our disappointments.
Christian sanctification of Suffering
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure or a quest for power but a quest for meaning. The great task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. We can find this meaning to our life in our work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person) and in courage in difficult and suffering times. Jesus demonstrated meaning to His life in his work, in love and more significantly in times of sufferings and trials. Jesus, at Gethsemane, accepted the will of His Father and agreed to drink the cup of suffering and accomplished His Mission by dying on the cross. We too are called to sanctify our sufferings and offer it to the Lord. The more my prayer life is crucified, the more meritorious it becomes. The more what I say to God is combined with what I offer to God, the more pleased He will be. Emotion which is suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how. It does not really matter what we expect from God but rather what God expects from us. We need to find the purpose of our life and accomplish it in the midst of our dire sufferings and trials. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. This means that whenever any trial enters our life, no matter how small, we prayerfully place ourselves in God’s presence, accept the trial and accomplish our purpose in life. Only then, we too, in unison with Christ can utter the solemn words, “Lord, Not my will but Thine be done”. We too, like Christ shall sanctify our sufferings and offer it to the Lord like sweet incense.
There exists a great relationship between suffering and pleasure, which is reflected in the way in which time marches on in the Bible. According to human calculations, day starts with the morning and ends with the night; in the Bible day starts with night and ends with daytime: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day”, says the story of creation (Gen 1: 5). It is not meaningless that Jesus died in the evening and rose in the morning. Without God, life is a day that ends in night; with God it is a night that ends in day, a day without sunset.
Good Friday precedes Easter and Gethsemane precedes the Good Friday. We all need to die to ourselves on Good Friday to rise again with Christ on Easter morning. Similarly we all need to resolve, make a committed decision to fulfill our mission, say an emphatic “Yes” to the Lord, submit ourselves to the Lord at Gethsemane before we die on Good Friday. We need to journey from the Garden to the Grave with Jesus if we truly want to experience His Grace and the luminous light of Easter.
Kindly keep me in your prayers.
Contributed to ‘the Examiner’ dt March 31, 2012