Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains;
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me
or the hand of the wicked drive me away. (New Revised Standard Version)
The desert journey is almost over. The sojourn with Jesus in his life and ministry will soon culminate in the ultimate experience of sorrow and joy. The Christian season of Lent is nearly at the end. We are in it’s final days, known as Holy Week.
We have a Holy Week because of love. There is yet another journey we must take, along the Via Dolorosa to the hill of Golgotha, because of God’s steadfast love.
Love suffers. Every parent knows this. Because of a parent’s committed and faithful love toward a child, they feel not only the joys but also the sorrows and pain of their children. I can say that this feeling does not go away, even with adult children. And it’s compounded with grandchildren. Just as our love is big enough to hold multiple children and grandchildren, so our capacity for experiencing deep emotion for their welfare is equally large.
Holy Week reminds us that God’s committed parental love suffers. It is because of God’s immense and steadfast love that there is a road to the cross and a tortured death for Jesus. The cost of our salvation involves a very bloody affair. Deliverance comes at the price of horrible violence. Jesus Christ lived and died for us, because of love.
He suffered much because he loved much.
God’s people, walking in the way of love, quickly discover that it is simultaneously walking in the way of suffering. From Old Testament times through the New Testament era and into the present day, the faithful have always experienced suffering as a central part of their piety and devotion in showing steadfast love.
The medieval mystics of the Church understood quite well the connection between suffering and love. They could not imagine a Christian life without hardship, difficulty, and persecution. Thomas à Kempis, a sort of pastor to pastors, wrote in the fifteenth century:
“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world. And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention…. When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment…. It is when a man of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil that he best understands the overwhelming need he has for God, without whom he can do nothing…. It is in such times of trial that he realizes that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
And yet, it is because of love that suffering is transformed and endured as something wholly other than sheer pain or hurt. Thomas à Kempis went on to say:
“Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it, or ill-fortune cast it down…. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength; love sees nothing as impossible, for it feels able to achieve all things. Love therefore does great things; it is strange and effective; while he who lacks love faints and fails.”Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Holy Week’s message is certainly one of suffering love. Jesus went to the greatest lengths possible to give Divine steadfast love to humanity. So, let us not shy away from the cross, but journey with Jesus to Golgotha, embracing the love of God for us. In so doing, we will find the inner resources needed to love the world, even in all its unloveliness.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, though in our weakness we fail, we may be revived through the Passion of your Only Begotten Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.