Take Another Look At Suffering
Suffering has been in the news a lot in recent weeks. From Terri Shiavo to Pope John Paul II we've been forced to look at suffering, perhaps rethink it. But whether or not you identify or embrace the suffering of another is not the important question. Rather, do you embrace the suffering of Jesus? The 2 disciples coming back from Jerusalem didn't. "Their faces were downcast," when they were forced to explain to their Guest how the leaders of the Church had betrayed Jesus to be sentenced to death and crucified. So 2 disciples walk and talk about the mocking, flogging, torturing, crying, bleeding, suffering and dying of Jesus. How sickening it all was to them. Not likely they were going home to hang a picture of the crucifixion like we have in our home. Not likely they were going to buy a crucifix to hang around their necks like many of you do. Not likely they would go see a movie where someone dramatized the events of the last couple of days. Such suffering was reprehensible to them. But Jesus makes them take another look at suffering.
There's more than a little irony here, and we're involved. These 2 are astonished anyone could be coming from Jerusalem and not know what had happened there. But we know Jesus is the only One who really knows what had happened there. And then we're surprised when Jesus calls these grief stricken disciples, "foolish and slow of heart" because they don't believe the prophets that "Christ had to suffer first before entering into glory."
Christ had to suffer? This Prophet mighty in Word and deed, who raised the dead, healed the sick and stopped suffering in it's tracks, had to suffer? Then Jesus explained to them what the Scriptures said concerning Himself. They had to take another look at the suffering of Jesus because they were not looking at it through the lens of Scripture. His suffering was painted in their brains in all it's gory detail. But Scripture folded the picture this way and that, like the back cover of Mad magazine, to form an entirely different picture, a resurrected, glorified Jesus.
Take another look at the suffering of Jesus. Start with Moses. See that from the get-go, God promised to send Someone who was more than a man to do what perfect man and woman could not do. Adam and Eve couldn't even keep one command let alone 10. They couldn't resist the temptations of the devil for one day let alone 40 days. Though in Paradise, the devil succeeded in making Eve discontent and Adam content to go along with her. God had done everything for them: made them perfect, gave them a perfect marriage, in a perfect place. And Adam and Eve, said, "Nuts to you God; we'll do what we want." God had told them, "Eat the fruit and you die," and because they were the beginning of all humanity, everyone born in their image dies.
So there you have it. God had commanded Adam and Eve, "Do this and you live;" and promised, "Don't do it and you die." Both the command and promise of God had to be kept in order for God's original intentions to be carried out: that man, woman and all their children live together in a world where heaven and earth are one. Enter Jesus, true God from all eternity, true Man born of the virgin Mary. He keeps all the commands of the Law necessary for all us children of Adam and Eve to live forever. He never once did what you do all the time. He never doubts God, never ignores His Word, never fails to call upon God in every trouble. He never gossips, never cheats, never sins sexually, never has a sinful desire.
But that's not enough. Adam and Eve broke God's command, and He promised temporal and eternal death for that. God would be liar, never to be trusted, if He didn't keep that promise. So He asked Jesus to suffer in your place. In a moment in time, Jesus endured hell's eternally burning flames and gnawing worms. What you know your secret sins and hidden shames deserve in time and eternity, Jesus the God/Man suffered on the cross. Your sins offend the eternal God and nothing less than the suffering of the eternal God in your place could satisfy Him. So while the disciples tried to prevent His suffering and His enemies demanded He stop it by coming down from the cross, it was necessary. The only way sinners like you could triumph over sin's power, pain and shame is by Jesus suffering enough to carry those sins away from you once and for all.
Jesus had to suffer before He entered into His glory. He's there now, and you know what that means: He's done suffering to pay for sins. He proclaimed it was finished on the cross, and His Father showed He agreed by raising Him from the dead on Easter. One second of the eternal God suffering is enough to pay for all the world's sins, but God in your flesh and blood suffered for 3 hours on the cross, so you might never, ever think the suffering you go through here needs to be added to that. Jesus succeeded in suffering enough to pay for your sins. Having finished paying for your sins, death could not hold Him. So God the Father raised Jesus and Jesus entered His glory.
Jesus is finished suffering under sin, death and the devil, but these 2 disciples weren't. You're not either. You too grieve over how Jesus suffers in this world. He's mocked and crucified still. Newspaper editorials ridicule His suffering; seminars of church scholars proclaim that Jesus didn't rise but His body was devoured by dogs. Like the Emmaus disciples, you had hoped that Jesus was going to bring redemption: but the world doesn't look redeemed and neither do you or I. We still sin. We still fall. We still worry, fear, covet, and lust.
Jesus is finished suffering to pay for sins. His resurrection proves this, but His Body, the Church, says St. Paul, still proclaims the death of Jesus, still preaches a crucified Christ. And if we're going to keep on believing, preaching and teaching, a Jesus who must suffer in a sinful world, Jesus must abide with us. "Abide with us," pleaded the Emmaus disciples because only Jesus' Words had been able to beat back the horrible gloom and utter despair of the last 3 days; only His Words had been able to rekindle a flame of hope in the smoldering charcoal of their dreams. Only His Words had been able to make sense of the suffering of Jesus they couldn't forget.
Abide O dearest Jesus, we Lutherans have sung for 377 years. Only His Word in us, on us, for us can lift the damp, wet clouds of gloom and doom that cloud over our souls when we see how much Jesus is ignored in this life. Only His Word can assure us that while Jesus' Body, the Church on earth, suffers under false teachers, hypocrites, and open sinners, He, the Church's Head, remains in charge, victorious, and with His suffering Body on earth. He abides with us in His Word when we suffer the flaming darts of the devil that stick us with worries and fears for the future of the Church. He abides with us in His Word when we suffer health troubles, family troubles, even sinful troubles. Jesus' Word of promise that nothing in all of heaven, earth, or hell can separate us from God's love that we have for His sake burns brighter than all our troubles combined.
But it's not just by holy, divine, sharp, and powerful Words that Jesus abides with His suffering Church. Jesus rose from the dead, so abides with us in flesh and blood too. We are to recognize Jesus in the Sacraments: Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. We Lutherans "don't seriously object" if someone thinks Jesus celebrated Holy Communion with these disciples. Other times in Luke's writing the phrase "Breaking of Bread" definitely means Communion. However, I don't think so here. The Emmaus disciples weren't there on Maundy Thursday, and surely Communion wasn't celebrated till the Church confessed the victory of the resurrected Jesus. What these disciples recognized was Jesus taking bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread and giving it to them. These words are almost identical to what Jesus did in feeding the 5,000. They recognized that Jesus had risen and was abiding with His Church by seeing Him doing what they had seen Him do before: take care of them and feed them, where it looked impossible.
We are to recognize that the resurrected Jesus truly and physically abides with His Church today in the Sacraments. In these we see Jesus doing what He said He would. Jesus promised to provide eternal, living water for His Church in the desert of this world which hates Her. He gives us Baptism which is a life giving water rich in grace where the Holy Spirit washes and renews us. Remain, abide, stay in your Baptism, and the resurrected Jesus remains, abides, stays with you in the desert of this fallen world that wants to burn you to a crisp.
Jesus promised we could be of good cheer even though we're sinners which the sinful world claims to own. We are to be of good cheer because Jesus has power on earth to forgive those sins that the world cites as proof of ownership. Jesus abides with us in Absolution where He speaks through the mouth of a man to send our sins away. Remain, abide, stay in Absolution, hear it regularly in your ears and know that the resurrected Jesus remain, abides, stays with you and has more of a claim on you than the sinful world does.
Jesus promised that He would remain with His Church until the end of the world. As sure as the Emmaus disciples recognized that it was the risen Jesus sitting at the table, so you are to recognize the risen Jesus on this table in the Bread and Wine. Remain, abide, stay in Communion, taste it, touch it, smell it, hear and see it, and know that as sure as your senses apprehend Bread and Wine Jesus remains, abides, stays with you in a tangible way. In this Meal Jesus embraces you with the Body and Blood that He suffered in to redeem you, so you might embrace the sufferings your body and blood go through here as a member of His Body the Church. The suffering you go through as member of the Body of Christ don't happen to pay for your sins; they happen because your sins have been paid for. They're the mark of the redeemed. So take another look at suffering. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday of Easter (4-10-05); Luke 24: 13-35