Not to long ago a baby girl, in the care of her mother and her mother’s boy friend, was tragically and viciously killed. The little girl would not stop crying so the boyfriend picked her up and beat her. He slammed her head against the wall several time, them punched her in the stomach. After that he shook her violently, all while the mother looked on “to afraid to stop him.” After the savage beating the little girl lay quietly on the couples bed room floor for 2 days in and out of consciousness. The mother said she could hear her moan from time to time, but still she did nothing. On the 3rd day the little girl’s grandfather came over to see her while the boyfriend was at work. He asked where his granddaughter was and at first the mother, his daughter, danced around the question, but she could not dance around the moaning and groaning coming from their bedroom. The grandfather rushed into the room to find his 4-year-old granddaughter severally and viciously beaten laying on the ground. He picked her up and rushed her to the hospital where she later died from her wounds. The mother and boyfriend, of course, where arrested and later convicted of child abuse, neglect and 2nd degree murder.
At my first appointment in Oklahoma a man, a husband, father, grandfather and friend died a long and very painful death from colon cancer his name was Bill. Bill had three adult children and 3 grand children. He was married to his wife for 40 years, was a popular teacher and the one football coach to ever won a State Championship for the high school football team. He taught drivers education and drove a school bus. He was a well-known and well-loved man in our community and he went to our church. One day he was mowing the church lawn…for free; yes in some places people actually do things at and for their church for free. That day Bill didn’t finish the lawn. He came to the parsonage, which was located on the church grounds and knocked on my door and told me he didn’t feel well and would come back another day to finish. 8 days later he still had not returned because Bill had been admitted to the hospital and it had been discovered that he had stage-four colon cancer. Over the next 6 months I watched Bill suffer physically in ways I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I watched his wife rive in emotional pain as she faced the reality that her friend, lover and partner of 40 years would soon be gone. I watched as his adult children sat silently, hurting, dying inside because their daddy, who was fine at Xmas, dressing up like Santa as he did every year, was no longer the strong, confident man that had guided their lives for so many years, so much suffering in so many places for what seemed like and eternity. Unfortunately Bill passed away and a whole new way of suffering identified itself and the suffering went on.
In the book of Matthew during all the joy and anticipation of the nativity a terrible suffering like the world has not often seen was taking place. The jealous, selfish and ruthless King Herod, fearing for his throne, orders the slaughter of baby boys 2 years and under, and in response to this event Matthew writes, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lament, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” This is suffering like most of us have ever known, a suffering so deep, so primordial, that those who suffered refused any comfort, a suffering so unique perhaps only the parents of the Newtown massacre understand it. Truth is we all have suffered in one way or another. Maybe you are suffering in some way now, maybe you are aware of someone who is suffering now. We turn on the TV and witness suffering, we go on-line and Yahoo greets us with a new story of some ones suffering, we read the news and we read about suffering…suffering is all around us, it effects our lives in ways and more often than any other human experience….it’s a good thing we have a God who knows suffering too.
As it is Maundy Thursday church tradition would lead us to discuss and reflect on the Lords Supper, which is a good and noble thing, but this year instead of going with tradition, siding with expectation and just talking about the Lords supper I want us to consider something else. This night is the night before Christ most terrific suffering. So instead of a meal, instead of intrigue, instead of foot washing (which is a certain amount of suffering in it’s self…yuck!) lets reflect on Christ suffering. Our passage tonight is one that many of you are familiar with, it is a text that biblical maximalist say is a foretelling of Jesus suffering and a text that biblical minimalist claim has nothing to do with Jesus at all. I for one see the connection between the Jesus and what Isaiah 53 calls the “Suffering Servant”, but not just as a foretelling, but as prophetic.
Isaiah 53 speaks of the man of suffering, Jesus that is, as one who is acquainted with suffering, one which was through oppression wrongfully executed. He was oppressed and afflicted…he suffered…. acquainted with suffering, familiar with suffering, like you and I are familiar with baseball or pie, he knew suffering. A few hours from now Jesus will endure suffering like most of us have never. I remember a peer while at United who often spoke of the suffering she endured in the form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse as a child. She said they were things should could hardly speak of even with her closes friends. She said the thing that offered her the most comfort was knowing that she did not suffer alone. All those years someone suffered with her and that some one was Jesus, the suffering servant. Jesus did not just suffer for us so that we did not have to; Jesus suffered with us so that we didn’t suffer alone. This Easter season the gospel wants you to know that if you are suffering, you are not alone. Think of Jesus who was wrongfully accused, tortured and executed. Think of Mary. A mother who watched her son bleeding and broken, dying and she could do knowing to help him. Think of the 99% of people in Jesus day, much like our day, who suffer 90% of the time. Those who hunger, those who are homeless, those who are oppressed, those who suffer abuse, who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, food or sex…. and you will see, you do not suffer alone. Tonight the good news is simple…we suffer together and God suffers with us!