In the Abyss

Over the past three years, I’ve found myself saying, “It can’t get much worse than this” about things happening in our world. A global pandemic, cataclysmic weather events, and violence that seems be the ground on which our society stands; I’ve been shocked again and again at how suffering seems to never end, as if it’s an abyss of suffering. The chasm of suffering in the world around us is seemingly bottomless and most of us simply cannot stand in the wake of suffering with any sort of authentic vulnerability and compassion because any tethers to hope feel impossible. So many of us are tired, and though I am deeply convicted to have hope, I’m struggling. I’m struggling especially today because we come to Good Friday to stand witness to Christ’s suffering, and in so many ways, it seems like all we do these days is witness suffering.

But Good Friday asks us to witness not just the death of our Savior, but to stand beside Christ as he offers himself up to the violent mob, so angry that they were willing to kill the one who preached radical hope for the oppressed. We come not only to meditate on the cross, but to remember that Christ was flogged by people who did not want the marginalized to have any sort of future or freedom. When we witness the Passion of our Savior, we must acknowledge that not only did Christ have to wear a crown of thorns, but also that angry people weaved those thorns together with the intent to pierce Christ’s wounded head; that it was not the wrath of God that nailed Christ to the cross, but the wrath of humanity. Good Friday is a day of standing witness to God’s suffering, and the truth is, if we dare to show up to witness Christ’s suffering, we have no choice but to witness the suffering of those who Christ particularly loved.

       The painful truth of this particular Good Friday is that it doesn’t feel out of the ordinary, because every day we witness the suffering of the very image of God. But perhaps there is no greater way to mark this dark and holy day than to acknowledge the suffering that colors our whole world. Because to take up the invitation of Good Friday requires us to witness Christ’s suffering, and to have compassion, to literally suffer with, those whose lives are full of violence and fear. Perhaps on past Good Fridays, this was a theoretical witnessing, but as violence wells up around us, we can no longer allow our compassion to be theoretical.

We are called to remember the pain and terror of hope being taken away from the disciples and the women at the foot of the cross. We are called to acknowledge that this doesn’t just happen on Good Friday to the Christ but happens every day for people all over our community. We are called to stay in this suffering, not because we have no other choice, but because we, even when it feels distant and impossible, know that the unrelenting hope of the resurrection is coming. We are called to the foot of the cross to be changed by this instrument of torture being turned into a sign of hope for the very people it oppressed. The cross is a sign of hope that even the most violent wrath of humanity can never ever extinguish God’s hope and love. And for those of us willing to be changed by the cross—for those willing not just to call themselves Christian, but be convicted by witnessing Christ’s death at the hands of the government—the cross is a symbol of our hope, even when we feel hopeless in the abyss of suffering.  

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church on Good Friday, April 7, 2023.

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