As If We Were There

Surely he took up our pain 
and bore our suffering,
 yet we considered him punished by God,
 stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
 the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

And how shall we pray those psalms of unspeakable misery and suffering, the meaning of which we have hardly begun to sense, even remotely?  We can and we should pray the psalms of suffering, the psalms of the passion, not in order to generate in ourselves what our hearts do not know of their own experience, not to make our own laments, but because all this suffering was real and actual in Jesus Christ.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We just passed the third anniversary of the 3-11 (earthquake/tsunami/nuclear) disaster. Many of us who are personally connected to it still feel a very immediate and emotional bond and let that bleed out into our social media posts. But I observed that the overall reaction was generally limited, even tepid, in comparison to other years. And there was some discussion (not on mine but observed) equivalent to: time to let it go and move on with your lives. And this is true on some level. We shouldn’t wallow in it or make it about us. But we do need to remember that it really happened, and it still is having a profound affect on Japan, the Japanese, and on us.

All the unimaginable horror and suffering of 3-11, 9-11, and the rest of the nightmares we have observed or experienced in our lives, pale in comparison to what Christ endured for us. If we can’t even begin to imagine the horror of someone caught in the Oso mudslide, how do we begin to comprehend and interact with Jesus’ experience? Perhaps it is best kept in the abstract: out there, holy. If it is unspeakable, why talk about it? But Bonhoeffer gives us a formula for interacting with this “unspeakable misery and suffering.” He calls on us to not only read, but to turn into the active act of prayer the words of Christ’s suffering and passion. Not, he says, so we can be empathetic or to seek understanding about what can’t be understood. Not so we can make it about us. But because it happened. Really. And it affects us every day because as a result of His suffering, we are healed. Treat Christ’s death as if we were there. Treat it like it was this morning. Say the words prayerfully, respectfully, and with awe and tears. Gratefully.
~Brian Vander Haak


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