"For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 1 Corinthians 1:5
In the last post, I focused on the reality that those who follow Jesus must follow him in suffering as well as in fortunate times. Today I want to dig a bit deeper into the question of "how?". How do we follow Jesus in suffering? And if we do experience symbolic deaths (aspects of life coming to an end) regularly in life, how do we follow the example of Jesus into these trying times?
As we look at Jesus approaching the cross, it is clear that he's aware of what he's in for. If not, he wouldn't have pleaded in the garden for God to spare him the cross. As I mentioned in the previous post, Jesus' humanity was evident here (as much through his prayer as through the blood seeping through his pores). And if these deparating words on the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?) were also a cry from the humanity of Jesus as he probed the depth of human experience, we see the humanity of Jesus most clearly on the cross. Again, to me this makes sense since God's redemptive plan required a death that would substitute for all of humanity – thus a human death was needed (albeit a perfect human death only accomplished by a divine Jesus). But, if we see the humanity of Jesus most on the cross and we have vowed to follow this Jesus, maybe we should takes more thorough notes on how he endured this death. For we too experience symbolic deaths all the time.
What's most interesting about Jesus' awareness of the cross as he prayed in the garden was that although he prayed for an escape (most likely knowing there wasn't one!), he accepted the death that lied ahead. The wrestling of humanity and divinity within Jesus, both desired another way and embraced the path ahead – all in the same Jesus. I think this is remarkable. As we anticipate dark times in our lives, we typically run from them. But Jesus willingly stares into the darkness and walks into it. It is clear he wanted a different route, but he went through with a horrific and tortuous death. As we follow Jesus into dark and trying times in our own lives, maybe we should learn to follow Jesus' example of accepting (even embracing) what lies ahead. Instead of running, we should accept that God's plan for our journey also involves suffering and these symbolic deaths. And as hard and as painful as it is, we too should accept and embrace these times.
So it seems as though following Jesus in death involves accepting suffering and death as a part of the Christian experience and following through the darkness into the light of resurrection. Clearly this was Jesus' example for us. Barclay writes of this sort of following of Jesus in death, "If we too cling to God, even when there seems to be no God, desperately and invincibly clutching the remnants of our faith, quite certainly the dawn will break and we will win through."
Tomorrow I will finish this series of posts off with the final question, "What might it look like to follow Jesus in resurrection?"