Good Friday: The power of pain to transform

Isaiah 53:1-7

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

From Sacred Space:
Why do the wicked prosper? The Psalmist complained to God about it, and the question still haunts us. It haunted Jesus, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ If Jesus felt impotent in face of evil, so do we. Such impotence is part of the human condition. It means being passive, unable to act. It is the central suffering of the Passion, whether the passion of Jesus or of any of us. It can lead to a particular sort of prayer. Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God, and if it is a heart heavy with anger, impotence or anguish, that too can find expression.

If we’ve lived long enough, we’ve all been there. The experience of an anguish and helplessness so complete that you feel paralyzed from action. You can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t think. Eventually, you’re so emotionally ravaged that you can’t do anything to console yourself.

Good Friday is, to me, the epitome of such an experience. The Son of God who had become fully Man faced His mortality and the weight of His Heavenly Father’s will. Knowing full well that His mission ends on the cross, He nevertheless wept tears of blood and begged His Father to let this cup of sorrow pass Him by if possible. After a three year public ministry when He had healed the sick, comforted the poor and sorrowful, exorcised the possessed and served His people with unwavering love, He was to die a naked, shameful death, betrayed and condemned by the very people He had served His entire life. Ultimately, even His apostles abandoned Him out of fear for their own lives. Being human, and having loved so deeply, how could our Lord not be in anguish?

Our Lord did not flee His pain. He did not keep His fear at bay. He accepted the affliction and allowed His anguish to penetrate the depths of His soul. Why? Because He lived the understanding that His Heavenly Father held Him. Christ’s suffering stripped Him of everything except love and obedience. And it was His love and obedience to God that gave Jesus the power to remain silent as He endured the most unjust of sufferings.

Our Lord’s acceptance of His pain and His complete surrender to love transformed the most heinous injustice into the glory and triumph of Easter. Through His passion, death and resurrection, Jesus showed us how we should face our own crosses. Can we follow Him?

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I told a friend who had recently suffered great emotional turbulence that sometimes such pain is a great boon for us. Some of the darkest fears that hold us and that subconsciously compel us to act against our (true) best interests are buried so deep in our psyche that only a powerful enough jolt can knock it into our consciousness. That is why it is often the most painful experiences that make us confront our selves.

At the start, such a confrontation is filled with fear that we will discover in our selves darkness we do not wish to see. But if we persevere, and like Christ, know that we are held by God’s loving hands, we will encounter our own easter. We will eventually be able to look at our failing without fear or judgment, surrendering it to the One who has the power to heal us and make us whole. And when that happens, the darkness within us loses its power over our lives.

I believe the process of allowing pain to transform our lives is one that continues for as long as we live. Just as gold is purified in fire, so are our souls purified by the furnace of life’s pain and suffering. We can choose to deny our pain and run away, or we can choose as Christ did, making our lives an endless prayer of loving surrender.

“Not my will, but Yours be done.”

I pray that we will all learn to see pain as an ally.

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