Year C; Trinity Sunday, FB; 6.12.22
My early experience of disappointment, failure and suffering was that these were things of life that I was to bear alone. A disappointment at school, the let-down of friends, death of my grandmother or older brother’s teasing, all, I thought, were occasions of building strength and endurance by myself.
It wasn’t until early adulthood when John and I joined the Episcopal Church and I attended a silent retreat at a convent in Western North Carolina that I learned that I wasn’t alone in suffering and disappointment. I learned that God in Jesus suffers with me. The nuns led the retreat in the reading of Jesus painfully praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. We were asked to imagine and pray over that passage.
So, I went out to the convent grounds, climbed a rock and sat for a long time praying and pondering Jesus in the Garden. I was going through a challenging time in my life and imagined that the God I loved to worship in the Episcopal Church was right in there with me, experiencing disappointment, failure, betrayal and suffering – right there on his knees with me. I felt my heaviness lift that afternoon in Lent. I never felt alone in my suffering again.
Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian whom I met during a conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, has written about the crucified Christ and the Theology of the Trinity. I resonated with his theology in seminary when I learned that he had been in the German army and was taken as a prisoner of war. At that time, he was a young adult. He had had no religious training or experience, only secular philosophy and physics.
In his captivity, he and other German prisoners soon were given the evidence of the death camps carried out by the Nazis. He realized that he’d contributed to this regime and became deeply depressed. A British chaplain gave him a bible and he began to read it. After he left prison, he then studied theology and began to write about the meaning of the Crucified Christ.
This is what Moltmann wrote about the story of the suffering of Jesus on the cross when he first encountered it in scripture during his deep depression:
“I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me. This was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. I began to summon up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope.” He learned that no one is ever alone in suffering. NO ONE.
Many people are suffering in this country and around the world. We are broken-hearted about the gun deaths of school children and teachers and countless others. I read this week that the only way the parents of one Uvalde child could identify their daughter was by her green high top Converse shoes. She had hand-drawn a heart in black marker on the right toe. They said that the green color represented her love of nature.
Her mother said that her body was so mutilated that the only way to identify her daughter was by these green shoes. Oh boy! Can we have hope in such horror that the Crucified Christ “… takes every little mutilated child with him, with his own mutilated body, on the way to resurrection?”
We must have hope. Holy hope is what we have. God in Christ is right there in the green high-top Converse, not recognizable. I’m not saying that we must have superficial optimism that has no substance. Having hope is hard. We learn how hard it is in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans we read this morning. St. Paul immerses us in the hope that does not disappoint even in hardship. He writes,
“…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us….”
“Why,” we might ask, “can’t I have hope without all that struggle and suffering? Do I really need all that much ‘character in order to have hope??’”
But St. Paul doesn’t stop there. He writes, “…hope does NOT disappoint us, because God’s love – God’s love – has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” God’s love accompanies us, suffers with us and gets us through the real “times of trial.”
The real trials for us are not only in our own daily lives, but we are witnessing a wretched world in which war continues to rage in Ukraine, a failed state causes famine and suffering in Yemen, the right to women’s reproductive health is being threatened, our siblings of color are being targeted for murder, and our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ) loved ones are being demeaned by people who call themselves followers of Christ.
Jürgen Moltmann writes about times of trial in his book, “Theology of the Trinity.”
He writes, “At the moment of God’s profoundest revelation there is always suffering… God suffers with us. God suffers from us. God suffers for us; it is the expression of God that reveals the triune God…God suffers with us, from us and for us” makes for a meaningful expression of God’s true self: expression of God’s love for us through God’s suffering.
“We don’t lose hope. Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” I see hope in our children where extra doses of God’s love have been poured into their hearts!
I saw this hope in children on Friday during Brunswick’s Art Walk. Many of you know that St. Paul’s is a member of Brunswick Area Interfaith Council called BAIC. BAIC is now in a state of renewal and one of the activities BAIC engaged in was the Brunswick Art Walk on Friday. We wanted to create a safe space in which people of the community could come and express themselves in art and words.
And so, we set up a PopUp Table on Maine Street that invited passersby to make an expression of lament or complaint. We had lots of colored markers and crayons and paper, a “wall” that was composed of levels of yarn strung between two stands and clothes pins to pin the art on the yarn. Mary Lee was there with poetry prompts if people wanted to express themselves in words on a flipchart. We had candles for people to light and take with them after they completed their drawing or words
Young and old alike participated in making expressions of love for the Pride Festival and for hope – lots of hope and even some joy. Hope and joy overshadowed lament and complaint on Friday in Brunswick. Children loved to draw hearts and rainbows. Children loved the candles. To each child I said, “You are the light of the world. May I give you this candle so you’ll remember that you are the light of the world?” Every single child and even young adults wanted a candle. I said, “This is a candle of hope. Light it because you are the light of the world.”
With each child. With each human being, the Crucified One takes us with him always from death, evil and suffering into the light. You are not alone. WE are not alone.
Where is God taking us today?