Ashes

Last night I went to church and had ashes painted on my hand.

It’s tradition in some churches on Ash Wednesday to have ashes placed on the forehead or back of the hand. It’s a sign of repentance hearkening back to the sackcloth and ashes described in the Old Testament. And it’s a symbolic start to the Lenten season of personal reflection.

In the past I have had ashes placed on my forehead. Less humble, perhaps, but – I quickly realized – also less messy. As careful as I tried to be with my marked hand, it was not long before ashes made their way to the sleeve of my shirt, my jacket, my pants, the grocery store aisle, my dog’s head, my own head, my shoes… And even when it came time to wash my hands, the ashes bled and smudged and stained. Still today there is a faint cross-shaped shadow on the back of my hand.

Every time I look at that smudge, I am reminded. I am reminded of the less-physical but equally dark stains in my life. I am reminded how sin spreads so easily and so quickly, like ashes trailing from my hand. Some days it seems everything I touch turns dark. Some days nothing I say is right. Some days everything seems to be falling apart – flaking into smaller and smaller dark smudges.

But I am also reminded of another hand. A hand that is stained not with ashes, but with blood. And how this hand, too, leaves traces. Not of darkness. Not of ashes. But of life-giving blood.

For all the ashes I leave in my wake, there is Someone who comes along and deposits something else. Peace. Hope. Love. The blood of Jesus cleanses in a way that water on my physical ashes never could. The red hand of Jesus covers the black hand of me. And in His wounds, I am healed.

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 53:5).

Doubting Thomas Sunday

The Sunday after Easter is Doubting Thomas Sunday.

It’s true across multiple denominations, and it’s true whether you are on a one year lectionary or a three year lectionary. You may have heard Thomas’ story so many times you think you’ve heard it all.

Come with me anyway.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:19-20).

All of the disciples that is, except for Thomas.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20: 24).

Juxtapose this story with one that occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had just completed several miraculous healings and a second miraculous feeding – this time of 4,000 people with just 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. But these miracles weren’t enough of a sign. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side (Mark 8:11-13).

Well, then. If that is Jesus’ response to a demand for a sign, what do you think He does with Thomas? Thomas, one of his twelve closest friends who had travelled with Him for three years and personally witnessed countless miracles – what does Jesus do with him?

One might expect a little exasperation. One might expect Jesus to say, “If you don’t believe in me now, after all you’ve witnessed, then you’re hopeless! I’ve given you all the evidence you need!”

But Jesus doesn’t respond that way, does He?

Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:26-27).

Here we have two stories, both with people demanding further proof from Jesus, and yet two very different responses from Jesus. What was the difference?

The difference, I believe, is that Jesus knew the asker’s heart. Numerous times throughout the New Testament we read how the Pharisees asked Jesus things to test Him, to trap Him, or to ridicule Him. They did not come to Jesus with sincere doubt; they came to Jesus with self-righteousness and hidden agendas. One more sign would not bring them any closer to God.

Jesus walked away.

But to those who sincerely asked – for those who wanted to believe but struggled – Jesus had a very different response.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

We know what happened next. Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Did Thomas ever doubt again? I don’t know. Based on my own experiences, I would say probably. But based on my own experiences, I would also say that wrestling with those moments of doubt ultimately led him (again and again) to a deeper exclamation of faith.

Doubt, while seemingly so opposite of faith, is often a catalyst that draws us closer to God. Doubt is not something to shy away from. It is something to grip with two hands and shake. It is something to hold out to God and say, “Help!”

Sometimes in order to be genuine in our faith, we must first be genuine in our doubt. And that, to me, is the lesson from Doubting Thomas Sunday.

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

Shepherds

Some of the most interesting questions are raised during Bible study. Like this one, that came about while reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them… And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-11).

“Why,” the question was raised, “did the angels visit shepherds?”

Why not kings? Why not the village watchmen? Why not dispatch angels to every corner of the earth with this astounding news?

Isn’t it interesting that apart from angelic visits to Jesus’ earthly parents, the only recorded angelic herald surrounding Jesus’ birth was to shepherds?

Think about that.

The first recorded use of sheep as a sacrificial offering dates all the way back to Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:2,4). Sheep were also likely part of Noah’s offering after the flood (Genesis 8:20), and when God tested Abraham during the binding of Isaac, it was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns, that God gave to Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son (Genesis 22:13).

Generations later, God’s law dictated the use of sheep as burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:10-13), peace offerings (Leviticus 3:6-11), sin offerings (Leviticus 4:27-35; 5:1-6), and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-19; 6-1-7). And it was lamb that served as the first Passover feast on the night the Israelites fled from Egypt. Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire…you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you… (Exodus 12:6-13).

It was the commemoration of this very Passover feast that Jesus celebrated with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. During that meal, Jesus set before all people a new covenant. No more would continual sacrifices be necessary to abide by God’s law; all of God’s law was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

The next day, Jesus would sacrifice Himself on a cross and then rise again three days later, defeating once and for all the sin, death, and devil that plague this world.

So why, on the night of Jesus’ birth, was His entry into the world heralded to shepherds? Perhaps it was to let them know that some of their services would no longer be needed. And to introduce them to a Lamb more perfect than any they would ever find within an earthly flock.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Pursued

Earlier this week as I was passing through the student union, a lady suddenly came running toward a student walking just ahead of me.

“Ma’am, ma’am!” She cried.

I stepped to the side, as startled as the student who looked up from her cell phone. As I walked by, I heard the lady say:

“I will buy you your coffee.”

Apparently the student had forgotten her wallet and was unable to purchase the coffee from the little store we were walking by. This lady had noticed, and had not just offered to help, but had literally chased the student down the hall to do so.

Several days later, I keep replaying the incident in my mind. When was the last time I chased someone down in order to be kind to them?

Do good, seek peace, and pursue it, the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 34:14). Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:22). Do not be overcome by evil, Paul wrote to the Romans. But overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

On this day 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ pursued us. He did not just casually intervene. He purposely chased us down so that He could lay down His life in our place. On this Good Friday day of remembrance, I wish you the peace and contemplation that comes with knowing that God never gives up in his pursuit of you. He has pursued you; He has overtaken you; He has laid down His life for you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends… I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13,15).

Lenten Winter

 

Lenten Winter Spring

Yes, I know.  We did get a few more inches of snow last night. But it’s a spring snow.  It’s light and fluffy – not your typical slushy spring snow, I’ll admit – but it’s quiet as cotton to walk on. Gone is the winter crunch I love so much.  I don’t expect to hear it again this year.

Already long stretches of pavement are exposed where the snow has melted off.  I can touch my dog’s collar bare-handed and my fingers don’t stick to the metal buckle.  The snow still catches against her muzzle when she shoves it, snorting happily, into the drifts.  But frost no longer coats her eyelashes.  Her breath no longer spouts a smoky halo as she runs.  Icicles no longer drip from in her whiskers.

My face still flushes with cold.  I still wear a windbreaker and a heavy fleece and my winter boots.  The wind is strong and from the north, but the sting is gone.  Winter may deliver another cold snap, but deep down I know, even as I walk through freshly fallen snow, that winter is over.

Victory belongs to spring.

It doesn’t matter, now, what else winter tries.  Time is on spring’s side.  The days are getting longer.  Yesterday I saw robins in the bushes and tree buds pregnant with expectancy. New life is there, even today, sitting quietly in the snow. It will come.  It always does. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

We enter this week into the season of Lent.  Much like winter, Lent is a season of preparation and remembrance.  We anticipate the new life – our new life – that is celebrated on Easter Sunday. But first, we need to prepare.

Liturgically, Christmas and Easter are only separated by a few months.  But historically, these two events were separated by several decades.  Lent reminds us that Jesus grew up human, like us.  He felt anger (John 2:13-17). He felt sadness (John 11:35). He felt compassion (Mark 6:34).  He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).  He was afraid (Luke 22:41-44).  You might say that Jesus went through a winter unlike anything you or I will ever have to experience.

Lent also offers us an opportunity to reflect on our own winter struggles. Who among us has never walked in some fashion through our own valley of the shadow of death? Lent allows us to stare darkness in the face and say, “Time is on our side!”  It doesn’t matter, now, what else the darkness throws our way.  The days are getting longer. The victory has already been won.

Once and for all, Jesus nailed sin to the tree.  He took it with Him to the grave, and He left it there when He came back. Jesus carried our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). This doesn’t mean we never sin; we live in a world still choked with sin.  It also doesn’t mean we never feel pain, or sorrow, or fear. Even Jesus himself felt those things. What it does mean is that none of those things will matter in the end. Or perhaps more accurately, those things are what make the ending matter even more.

Sometimes life is a bit like tromping through spring snow.  It’s cold, it’s dark, and the wind is hard and from the north. But do not let appearances deceive you.  Deep down, we can know that victory belongs not to darkness, but to light; not to winter, but to spring.

Lent reminds us that even the darkest winter will not last forever.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Oh death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

The Ending of the Easter Story

Jesus the Christ was put to death on Good Friday, but that is not the end of the story.

Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb…And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here” (Mark 16:2,4-6).

That is the Easter story.  But that, too, is not the end of the story.

He [Jesus] appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul], as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 14-15).

Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus continued to teach his followers.  He ate with them, He met with them, and when he ascended into heaven, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them (e.g., Luke 24:36-53).  For forty days after his death and resurrection, Jesus continued to lead His followers.  Then He ascended into heaven.

But even that is not the end of the story.  While they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

In other words, this story isn’t over yet.

Easter is not just an event we commemorate; it is an event we continue to live.  The miracles of Easter are as real and present today as they were 2000 years ago.  Jesus is as alive today as He was that first Easter morning.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked the women at the tomb.  “He is not here, but has risen…” (Luke 24:5-6)

“Christ is risen!” We say on Easter morning.  “He is risen, indeed!”

Sometimes I hear people wonder what it would have been like to live during the time of Jesus.  Sometimes I even say it myself.  Perhaps we should stop wondering and look around.  Because this is still the time of Jesus.  True, we cannot see Jesus, but until His physical return, God is guiding us through the Holy Spirit. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus told His disciples.  “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth… (John 16:7,13).  Just because we do not see Him, does not mean He isn’t here.  We don’t exclaim on Easter morning that He was risen; we exclaim that He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.

Jesus’ commission to His followers is as applicable to us today as it was the day He ascended into heaven:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This Easter season, are we merely celebrating a story we think is over?  Or have we considered the possibility that Christ is calling us to partner with Him (right now!) as He writes the rest of the story?

The Easter story, my friends, has not ended yet. 

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).

A Good Friday Greeting

I have often wondered what the appropriate greeting for Good Friday should be.  You can’t say “Happy Good Friday” or even, “I hope you have a good Good Friday.”  Good Friday is a day to commemorate something that is definitely neither happy nor good… even when we know the rest of the story.

But I feel like there should be some kind of acknowledgement.  What does one say about Good Friday?

The answer – or at least an answer – came to me unexpectedly in the form of an email from a friend:  We should say about Good Friday the same thing we should do about Good Friday.

We should contemplate it.

So here is my Good Friday greeting to all of you:

P&C –

Peace and Contemplation –

A peaceful and contemplative Good Friday to you.

Lord, help us to remember what this day signifies.  Help us to experience your peace even as we contemplate the day that Jesus died.  What was I doing today at 9 a.m.?  At noontime?  At 3 p.m.?  Was I standing at your cross?  Was I recognizing that even here – because of here – there is peace?

It was nine in the morning when they crucified Him (Mark 15:25).

The Beginning of the Easter Story

Jesus the Christ was born on Christmas Day, but that is not the beginning of the story.

The coming of Jesus was foretold throughout the Old Testament.  The prophets announced throughout Israel’s history that a Messiah would come.  But even that is not the beginning of the story.

We could argue that the Easter Story begins with us.  After all, our sins are the reason Jesus came.  We are the ones being connecting back to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are the reason for the Easter Story.  But I don’t think that is the beginning of the story either.

The need for a savior is first manifested in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve go against God’s only command.  “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die… Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 2:16-17,3:1).  We know from the passages that follow and from the intent of this serpent that this is no ordinary serpent.  This is not one of God’s good creations.  This is the Great Deceiver and the Great Tempter, masquerading as a lowly serpent.  No one but Satan would prod God’s good creation to question God’s authority, wisdom, guidance, and love.

Eve and then Adam made humankind’s biggest mistake – they listened to Satan’s whispering and went against God’s command.  Indeed, as Satan had suggested, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to good and evil, but at a terrible cost.  Sin was unleashed into the world, and they were powerless to escape it.  They hid.  They covered themselves with leaves.  But the release of sin was not something they could erase.  It would be passed down, generation to generation.  Every generation would be just as powerless as the last to staunch the rush of sin.

Except that God made a promise – even then.  Although Satan would wield sin, it would not overcome us.  Somewhere down through the generations, an offspring would crush Satan’s head.  “You shall bruise His heel,” God told Satan.  “But He will bruise your head (Genesis 3:15b).  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

So we see that God’s promise came first in the Garden of Eden.  But even that is not the beginning of the story.

It is John who tells us where the Easter Story truly begins.  In the beginning, John wrote, was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-2,14).

Jesus was in the beginning with God!  Jesus was God!  God is the beginning of the Easter Story.  Consider for a moment what that means.

We can feel our need for the Easter Story in our own failures.  We can hear the promise of the Easter Story in the Garden of Eden and in the prophets’ proclamations.  We can witness the Easter Story in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  But we can trace the beginning of the Easter Story to only one place.  The beginning of the Easter Story is God.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The Easter Story does not begin with us reaching out to God, or even with God becoming one of us.  It begins with God himself.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

Thanks be to God.  For He is the beginning of the Easter Story.

In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)

Cracking, Part I

Have you ever had one of those days where you think: “If one more thing goes wrong, I am going to crack!!”  As in, “The weight of this stressful old world is weighing me down so badly that I can literally feel myself starting to crack up and fall apart!  Arrggghhh!”

I certainly have.  Sometimes I have a whole season of them, which always makes me think of the quote: “I try to take one day at a time, but lately several have attacked me at once.”

During these times, I have a particular image that comes to mind of a person literally drying up and cracking into dust that blows away.  “Dear God!” I say.  “Help me!”  And sometimes that’s all I can say: “Dear God!”

But here’s the thing about cracking.  It’s not fun, but it is sometimes necessary. 

Take, for example, a baby bird trying to get out of its egg.  The egg has to crack.  Rather violently, too.  And that’s exactly what cracking up feels like.  Like a sharp little beak that is incessantly pecking away.  Peck.  Peck.  Crack. Peck, peck, peck…

Granted, we are not an egg, and we do not have a baby bird inside who is trying to get out.  But as Christians, we do have something else inside: the Spirit of God.  And God did not give us His Holy Spirit to keep it bottled up inside for our own use.  He said, very clearly, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

God gives us his Holy Spirit so that we can share it with others.  And sometimes, the best way for the Holy Spirit to shine is for us to get out of the way.  Our mortal self is, after all, nothing but a shell of dust.  If it was just us, the stresses of this world literally would dry us up and blow us away.  But thank God it is NOT just us.  The more cracks we have on the surface, the more God’s presence becomes apparent.  Sometimes these cracks are little, uncomfortable things that make us reach for God’s hand.  Sometimes they are giant cracks where it feels like we have been shoved off a cliff screaming “Dear God, catch me!”  But the purpose is always the same: God’s light bursting forth as a witness to his presence and his power.

As we come into the Easter season, it is pleasant to think of cute little chicks with fluffy yellow feathers, but we should not forget the process that allowed them to be born.  And on Easter morning as we reflect upon our own rebirth in Christ, we should not forget the process that allowed us to be reborn.  Even our most stressful season is nothing compared to the apprehension Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here is the picture of a man who is cracking up, whose stress is causing him to sweat drops of blood and who is pleading with God the Father to take this task away.  Yet he still manages to say, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  And in the end, it was through the cracking of His body that the Spirit of God shone through to offer salvation to the world.

In this world, we can try to rely on our own strength.  We can try to patch the cracks and hold everything together.  But God doesn’t want a perfect shell, and He will keep pecking away, trying to shine through.  He uses imperfect people by allowing his Spirit to shine through our cracks.  He pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we rely on Him.  He uses our weaknesses to demonstrate His strength.  Sometimes, in fact, the cracks we are trying so hard to glue together are supposed to be there.  Sometimes the cracks are how we see the very presence of God. 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

Click to jump to Cracking, Part II.

Lest We Forget

Not too long ago I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It was perhaps the most horrible book I have ever read.  I highly recommend it.

If you think that is a contradiction, it is not.

The book sat on my bookshelf for several months before I raised the gumption to open it.  I knew instinctively what kind of horrors it would hold.  Of course, as one friend commented, “It’s not that hard to figure out.  It says right on the back ‘a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality, and fear…endurance tested beyond their worst imagining.’” 

I honestly didn’t know if I would ever read it, but one night almost on a whim I pulled it off the shelf and read the first page.  And once the cover was cracked, the story would not let me go.  Two nights of staying up way too late and it was done.  There were parts I’d squeeze my eyes shut only to peek back through one eyelid to keep on reading. I didn’t want to read the book.  I read it anyway.  Perhaps it was like the proverbial car wreck that you don’t want to see but somehow can’t keep from staring.  I likened it to something vaster: The Holocaust. 

Surrounding the dark periods of our history we often hear the phrase, “Lest We Forget.”  The phrase is used to remind us of the importance of remembering our history, in part to pay tribute to those who have gone before us and in part to be on guard against repeating the cataclysmic horrors that our history contains. During this Lenten season, the phrase should also remind us of something else.

There are certain things in the world so horrifying that I really don’t want to know about them.  I don’t want to read about them, I don’t want to talk about them, I don’t want to think about them.  And yet, I have an indescribable need to do all of those things.  The Holocaust is one example; the tale of Mariam and Laila in Hosseini’s novel is another.  It is as though by acknowledging the deep and unyielding suffering of another, I somehow share some small part in it.  As though by sharing in the suffering in even this small way – the tears, the sickening of the stomach, the pure and vile nausea at the hell of it – as though by acknowledging its existence, by staring it in the face and being duly horrified, I become a little more… human.

Paul explained this phenomenon another way.  We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…if one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Corinthians 12:13;26). He also said, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

We are the Body of Christ.  Perhaps the greatest manifestation of this tenet is seen when we bear witness to the suffering of another.  It is in sharing each others suffering that we enact Christ’s trip to Calvary.  It is in bearing one another’s burdens that we are reminded of Jesus Christ, who carried the ultimate burden when he bore all of our sins to the cross.  When we are faced with the horrors of this world, we are reminded how desperately we need a Savior, and how graciously God provided one.

Through our suffering, God reminds us to lean on Him and to have faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings.  There are times we must stare the horrors of this world in the face and remember how human we are and how desperately we must cling to our Savior.  During these times we must join together as the Body of Christ and look to the cross.  Lest we forget.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17).