If you haven’t noticed, the Scriptures chosen for Lent’s sermons are all drawn from the last couple of days of Jesus’ life. On the first Sunday of Lent, I spoke about the Last Supper, and last Sunday, I preached on Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane as the disciples slumbered. This week, the Scripture covers the moment of Jesus’ arrest (Luke 22:39-46).
I think it’s important to spend as much time as possible on the passion (which means “suffering”) and crucifixion of Jesus, because the bulk of the gospels are consumed with these events. In fact, a New Testament scholar once described a gospel as a “passion narrative with an extended introduction.”
The point is that the passion and crucifixion of Jesus deserve a good deal of our time and attention. Lent is the perfect time to do that. In fact, it was designed to force us into a time of reflection upon these events and determine what they mean to our faith.
It means a number of different things to me, but in this space I simply want to highlight the vital and significant fact that Jesus suffered.
If the incarnation is true, if Jesus really was God incarnate, then it is highly significant that he suffered. Traditional Christian orthodoxy holds that Jesus was “fully divine and fully human.” If this is correct, then it means that, whatever divine characteristics he might have had, he was also very much flesh and blood. He didn’t get a break from the pain, from the shame and embarrassment, from the horror of what unfolded around him. He didn’t know everything that was going to happen to him; the prayer in the garden reveals that he was afraid and anxious.
The reason that this is important to me is because it means that Jesus and I are connected by human suffering. Neither of us are exempt from the world’s worst. I feel a sense of solidarity with Jesus in this matter. And not only me, but all of those who suffer, all of the world’s people who feel alone or hopeless or afraid.
Taking the doctrine of incarnation one step further, this means that God understands my suffering. When I experience fear, I can trust that God empathizes with that emotion. When I experience pain, I know that God has been in pain.
And this means that the God we worship is not an impersonal, abstract, or vague notion. It means that God has entered the human situation and chosen to be on our side. God is with us, not against us.
Everybody hurts in a different way, but the story of Jesus’ passion ties all our suffering together. Lent teaches us that our suffering is not meaningless or vain, but that it will be turned into glorious victory on Easter Sunday.