The God we encounter on Palm Sunday is revealed in Jesus. Jesus knew fear, felt abandoned, suffered death on a cross. Such suffering is painful to watch and yet we know that beneath the agony was an extravagant love for humankind.
St. Paul records a hymn that captures well the mystery of our crucified God. The passage tells of Jesus’ self-emptying, of his obedience unto death, and of his being exalted by his Father. We have in this brief account the essence of the Christian message.
But it is in the Passion narrative that the details unfold: the Last Supper scene; the journey to the Mount of Olives; the garden of Gethsemane; the betrayals; the unjust trial; the crucifixion itself. We know the story so well and yet to experience its depth will take a lifetime.
Caryll Houseland writes this of Mary, the mother of Jesus: “She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that because that was what he asked of her.”
We should attempt to read the Passion of our Lord from the perspective of Mary. She was unable to lessen Jesus’ suffering; she had to stand by and offer but her gift of presence. And yet what a consolation that must have been for Jesus; and yes, what an increase of sorrow as well. Mary was simply there, dwelling in the rawness of the pain.
One author, Ken Wilber, attempts to interpret suffering in a positive light. At least, he maintains, suffering holds the possibility of some creativity: “For suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense — to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our world in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think that suffering is the first grace.”
Whether or not he is correct in this line of thinking, one thing is sure for the person of faith: Jesus’ suffering has brought us the life of grace. It is in the cross that we find salvation: “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
Questions for reflection
1. In what sense can suffering be a grace?
2. What do you do when you cannot mitigate the suffering of others?
3. Does the concept of a crucified God cause you confusion?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.