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A Holy Week Reflection on Suffering with Jesus

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For most of my life, I’ve tried to find my identity in being the strong and capable one. I had always thought that strength was the absence of fear and even emotion. Unless that emotion included rage, fueling my desire for control and power. 

It’s an ugly truth, but it’s the truth all the same. Fear is my vice, surfacing as control and dominance over my life. 

But as I’ve been seeking some deep healing for wounds that are a decade old, I’m softening. I’m beginning to see the truth in Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 12:9 like never before, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” 

The more closely I walk with Jesus the more I’m coming to realize just how upside-down His kingdom really is. Like how He, the King and Creator and Ruler of all, would willingly ride into Jerusalem on the back of a colt knowing that He was willingly riding into His death (Matthew 21:1-11). Like how the God-Man would choose to die for us even though He was blameless. 

Or how He preached that we’re supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45), bless those who curse us and that the last will be first (Matthew 20:16) and those without much actually have the most (Mark 12:41-44). 

None of it makes sense. Just like the recent tragedies and suffering in our world don’t seem to make any sense. School shootings taking the lives of innocent children and teachers, striking fear and anger and sorrow so deep into the hearts of communities that it makes us all plead for Christ to just come. 

Come and save us from it all, save us from ourselves. 

Or the tornadoes that touched down a mile from my home last week and while we sought shelter in the bathroom under the stairs, praying and pleading to God to help us – protect us – those just down the road were losing their homes. 

Why, Lord?

Inviting God’s Power to Rest On Us

As we walk into Holy Week – the week leading up to that blessed Easter Sunday of resurrection and new life – I’m keenly aware of the sorrow and the pain and even the fear that accompanies the somberness and solemnity of these last days Jesus walked the earth. As I sat on my bathroom floor praying for the storm to pass, feeling so terrified and afraid, I realized that the fear and grief I felt were probably nothing compared to what Jesus was carrying inside His own body, anticipating His own death and separation from the Father. 

We all react to tragedy differently – we all have different ways of facing our fears. Tornadoes just happen to be one of my biggest fears. Actually, anything that I have no control over that could cause that much damage pretty much scares me straight. 

Like I said, I like being known as the strong one. But I didn’t feel very strong in those moments of uncertainty and fear. I felt weak, crying and praying and pleading with God and reciting my Scriptures. But I realized hours later that my expression of fear makes me human and being human is what invites God’s power to rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

My broken moments of feeling terrified may have looked weak on the outside, but in the Kingdom of God, they were actually moments of sweet intimacy as I ran to Jesus in my fear – letting Him speak His grace to my terrified places – rather than clinging to my own sense of control and power. 

Holy Week is a somber week, one where we remember the sorrow of Christ in our bones as we ponder what He must’ve been feeling in those last days. He was fully God and fully man, and I would wager He held fear in His own fleshly body. In fact, Jesus in His last hours shows us what it looks like for the Son of God to stare tragedy in the face. 

“Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little further, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:36-39, NIV)

In Luke 22:44 it states that the God-Man, Jesus, – fully God and fully man – was so distressed that He sweat drops of blood. If that isn’t fear in the face of tragedy, then I don’t know what is. 

Jesus draws us a roadmap and gives us an illustration of what it means to face fear and suffering with God. He shows us what it’s like to be human and still abide in His presence when our chests are heaving and our hearts are beating so loud that we can’t breathe or even think. Some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples were that we would face trouble in this world (John 16:33), but being Who He is, He didn’t leave us alone to try and find our way through it on our own. 

Reflecting on How Jesus Faced Suffering

As I digested this passage of Scripture from Matthew 26, the Spirit highlighted three main things that Jesus did in the face of terror and death in the darkness of that Garden. He shows us what true strength looks like in the upside-down Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s take a look.

Jesus Was Emotionally Honest

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

The world says that to be strong, we have to hold it together. We have to pretend that the words didn’t sting or the loss didn’t absolutely wreck us from the inside out or the mere thought of death doesn’t scare us and keep us up at night. But Jesus offers a different way of relating to ourselves and to Him when we face tragedy and fear. He acknowledged His feelings. He didn’t run from His emotions or even try to cover them up in front of His disciples. He showed His fear and His distress and even shared that His emotions made Him feel like He was dying. If the God-Man showed His emotions and bore His fear for the outside world to see, why shouldn’t we? God invites us to be honest with what we’re carrying and how it’s all affecting us. 

Jesus Reached for Community

“Keep watch with me.

In His darkest most terrifying hours, Jesus reached for community. The Word tells us that Peter and the sons of Zebedee (James and John) accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. He could’ve chosen to face the Garden alone, the anguish alone, to hide His worry and His humanness. But He didn’t. He wanted His most trusted friends with Him, to pray and to stand with Him. To be present to His pain and His suffering. We, too, created in the image of God, were created for community. We weren’t meant to walk the road of suffering and tragedy alone. Letting others see our weakness draws them closer, draws God closer, and it’s more than ok to admit that we need help and extra support. The God-Man did, and we do, too. 

Jesus Cried Out to God

“He fell with His face to the ground and prayed.”

We’re not created or required to stand in the face of tragedy. Not in our own strength, that is. We were created to fall to the ground in prayer and pleading to the God Who is able to give us enough strength to stand. I’ve spent my whole life thinking that what made me strong was standing on my own, standing in my own strength. But I’ve had it backward because Jesus fell and His face hit the ground and He cried out to God. Am I above the God-Man? No, I’m most certainly not. And if He has to fall to find strength, then so do we. 

Fear & Strength Embodied

I think sometimes we forget that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. And a huge part of what makes us human are the emotions we feel, the things that we embody. Curt Thompson, on his podcast – Being Knownsays that nothing becomes real to us until we feel it in our bodies. 

This has to be true because it was a body that was required to pay the price for my sins. It was a body that made my freedom real. It was a body that died and rose again so I could spend forever in God’s presence. 

As much as I have fought it throughout my life, the truth is that we were created to feel and embody our experiences and emotions. And feeling afraid and in pain and sorrowful and uncomfortable is part of the human experience. But the hope lies in the truth that even when we face tragedy, God is near. Even when we are weak, His power and His strength come into the room to rest on us, reviving us and reminding us that being human really is our biggest strength. 

Because being human means that we get to experience the glory and wonder of God. We get to witness Him move and speak and bring new life to dead things and light to dusty, dark places. 

His Grace is Sufficient

Fear and love can be in the same room, I felt it in those moments in the bathroom under the stairs as the tornado sirens wailed and we wondered if it would get close enough to hit us. I felt the fear in my stomach and in the way sweat began to form on the nape of my neck. I felt it in the tears that came and the breath that wouldn’t come out right. 

And I felt the love come as I prayed and pleaded and ran to the Word of God in my memory. I felt the presence of peace underneath all the panic. 

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me,” said Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. “But instead He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NIV)

Instead of the absence of fear and pain, God gave Paul His grace. 

He gave Himself and called it enough and assured us that in those moments of tragedy and loss, Love takes up space right next to the fear, reminding us that we can hold both. 

We can hold both grace for the moment and fear for the unknown. 

We can hold both light in the dark and the pain of loss in our bones. 

He’s enough, thank God, He’s enough. And the more-than-enough God doesn’t require that we deny the fear and pain. Instead, He invites us to fall to our faces so that His strength can rest on our weakest places. 

Praise be to God. 

So as we walk through Holy Week, with all the tragedy and suffering we hold in our own bodies, may we remember the very real presence of Love in the face of all we fear. May we hold close the hope and the reality that yes, Sunday is coming, but God lives here, too, where it hurts, right now. 

Peace be with you,