Monday, April 10, 2017

A God Who Bears

It’s Palm Sunday, and little girls in twirly dresses with giant bows run around the church waving palm fronds. The worship team declares the joy of this day—our King has come! And, for the first time in eight months, when the congregation rises to go forward to take communion, I walk with them. I can’t stop grinning—what a day for my diet restrictions to finally loosen enough that I might drink the grape juice (though not the bread yet)!

photo by Gary Scott,
What was it like for the disciples—to see their rabbi lift the cup, lift the bread before them in the age old tradition of Passover? And then, suddenly, the script changes, and the lamb that substituted for the Israelites generations before is reclining next to them at the table, speaking now into the words of history.

This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed for you.

This suffering, this punishment you deserve is not something you can carry, He says. And so I take this burden. 

And eyes wide open, the sweat dripping blood in anguish, He walks into darkness and bears.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp before being executed, writes, “Suffering must be borne in order for it to pass. Either the world must bear it and be crushed by it, or it falls on Christ and is overcome in him. That is how Christ suffers as vicarious representative for the world. Only his suffering brings salvation. But the church-community itself knows now that the world’s suffering seeks a bearer. So in following Christ, the suffering falls upon it, and it bears the suffering while being borne by Christ.” (65)

image by Marcus Buckner,
I didn’t expect the tears as I finally took this thimbleful of juice, this symbol of bearing. There’s been minimal progress on the medical front—tests have been screwed up, results misinterpreted, specialists flummoxed. I’ve been too tired to do much more than manage life, much less blog. The other week one of the medical professionals (30 in the last 4 years—I just counted) summed up the general frustration as he stood up from his rolling chair to leave, “You’ll likely just be sick for the rest of your life, and probably never know what’s wrong. Sucks, doesn’t it?”

This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed for you.

This is me bearing your suffering.

This is your invitation to follow me, to imitate me. To bear.

Paul muses, “Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)

To bear while being borne—to let this sometimes aching walk be allowed the privilege of bearing in imitation… well, then Lord, may it be.

So I drink the grape juice and cry and laugh, and stumble through Holy Week toward Easter, when bearing fades beneath joy and uncertainty is swallowed up by assurance and death falls before life.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. "Bearing Suffering." Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose and Provision in Suffering: 25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain. Ed. Nancy Guthrie. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 65. Print.