Lent 07: Day 16S – Joy and Suffering

Today, Sunday, is my day of Eucharist. One synonym is the Great Thanksgiving. We are called to come to the table and sit down beside Christ and the Apostles, and share with all who have come before, are, and who will come after, the joy of that moment.

Hebrews tells us that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross. Part of that joy was/is/will be the Eucharist, the sharing of that communion moment with all of the saints down through the ages. The Eucharist puts everything in perspective and helps us see the transitory nature of the things that make us anxious or in any way threaten us.

Jesus was less than twenty hours from his death, a moment beyond our imagining, yet he gave thanks, and called us to give thanks with and after him. In telling us to take up our cross and follow him, that encompassed more than just the dying; it included the living moments along the journey, such as the shared Eucharist in which we now participate.

Jesus said that greater love has no man, than he lay his life down for another, so when in obedience we take up our crosses and step onto the via dolorosa (way of grief), we make the choice to lay down our lives for Christ. We seek to reach the point on the road where we can say with Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. Part of that path is sharing in the Eucharist, the moment of thanksgiving in the midst of travail.

There is an unspoken assumption in much of American Evangelical Christianity that believes becoming a Christian opens the door to something akin to a spiritual Disney World. Believers should know joy, joy, joy for the remainder of their lives. While Evangelicals, for the most part, rejected the prosperity, King’s Kid, get what you want from God thrust of much of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity of the 80’s and 90’s, it did leave its taint in an underlying sense of entitlement. Whether it is said out loud or not, there is an expectation of some portion of the good life, filled with if not abundant then more than adequate blessings. It is our birthright as born-again believers, children of the King.

What is most often lost is what Lent focuses on, the via dolorosa, taking up our crosses and getting in behind Jesus on the difficult path. I think that is why many Christians are not prepared for the hard moments. They honestly don’t believe they deserve them. Their first thought is that something is wrong. If they can just find the right penitent moment, say the right Jabezean prayer, then everything will be alright and they will be back riding the blessings train.

Yes there are blessings. Yes there is joy. Yes there are intimate moments of true spirituality. But all of that sits in balance with Christ’s other overriding demand. Each way we turn, we come face to face with the cross we have been called to bear. While it is possible that at different times, Christians have erred by focusing too much on the grief aspect of our walk, we need to remember what Paul explained in Philippians.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

The way is through all things, not just the joyful, blessed moments of loving specialness, but the low, hungry, needy times too. The pain is real and an integral part of the journey. That way in our weakness we are made strong, in our failures we will find the path to success, and in our sin-caused repentance we will find the joy of forgiveness, given and received.

Why is it this way? I do not know, but God does. He scourges everyone he calls his own child. We all go through the cleansing times. There are no exceptions. God has his reasons and both Paul and Job understood this very well. What Job learned is that you can ask why, but God may not answer, and that has to be enough. What Paul learned is that there is a peace, that passes the understanding of the natural man–the why, that enables us to go continue on the path in the footsteps of Jesus no matter how hard it gets, because he will strengthen us, he will not allow us to go where he hasn’t made a way through.

His love is a tough love; love that removes the dross, burns away the corruption and disease of sin, and leaves behind the raw materials of new life, the new man. He says it is the best way. The question is are we satisfied with the answer? Paul was. Job was. Are you?

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