Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Life is full of suffering; for some more so than others.
Jesus was innocent, in fact sinless, and suffering came to him in great swathes.
Our Gospel reading describes a group of women whose empathy for Jesus, as he staggered towards his death, overflowed in wailing for him.
We all express empathy for someone in extremis differently. The public display of the women was no doubt appreciated by Jesus and I’m sure had you or I been there as his followers, we would have shown empathy in one way or another.
Empathy is a very human expression but not everyone expresses it easily. I recall when I was at prep school there was a very large boy called Tony Jackson who beat up a younger boy called Peter Meterlerkamp. I had assumed that Peter’s classmates would show empathy towards him but not a single soul stepped forward to comfort him. I don’t recall particularly why, but I did my best to encourage and comfort Peter and it established a bond between us that was unspoken but strong.
It costs very little to comfort someone and means a great deal to them.
One of the Holy Spirit’s titles is the Parakletos – the one who comes alongside, translated in English as The Comforter. Encouragement, comfort, empathy is at the heart of the character of God.
That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. In fact it is because of the human condition, largely characterised by dis-comfort and dis-ease, that we need God’s comfort.
The shock waves set off by the entry of sin into the world still resound and sometimes we are caught up in their residue. It’s for this reason that so often the Scriptures say things like
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
On this Mothering Sunday it’s worth asking who mothers the mothers? Who comforts the comforters? God does!
There will come a time when God comforts us with a comfort that speaks of permanent healing, restoration and righteousness. Eventually God will sort out all problems on a permanent basis but in the meantime we weather the storm, knowing that Jesus has established a beachhead and that we need to soldier on in establishing the Kingdom of God in what are often adverse conditions. It’s for that reason that a ministry of comfort, empathy and encouragement is so vital.
I think if we knew just how desperately some people need the love of Jesus we’d be galvanised into action. We’d be startled out of our Middle Class ease and have the courage to share the fact that salvation, as Jesus himself said, lies in him alone. (John 4: 6)
I’ve heard of a number of occasions when people share the Gospel with someone who breaks down and says, “Why has no-one told me this before?!”
There are times in life when we are in need of comfort and it seems that other people are too preoccupied or simply not interested in showing concern. I’ve quoted this before but David, once found himself in a situation where his troops wanted to stone him and we read that David comforted himself in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30: 6)
Jesus found himself in that situation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Drawing on the comfort of God is one of the essential Christian life-skills.
We have been focussing on Jesus in suffering and it is true that he suffered much on our behalf because, as Paul tells the Corinthians, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5: 21)
And yet a major characteristic of Jesus was his concern for others. Isaiah prophesies of Jesus in these words, (Isaiah 50: 4) The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The shortest verse in Scripture is Jesus wept. (John 11: 35) Jesus, standing at the tomb of Lazarus had compassion on both Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.
I think you and I would have wept for Jesus as he staggered towards the hill where he was to be crucified. But Jesus has compassion for us right now. So the question this morning, I believe, is not so much “Were you there then?” it is surely “Are you there now, when Jesus is suffering?” Because Jesus suffers in every precious human being who is in pain right now.
Lord you are compassionate, and you are determined to love your people until all is put to right, for A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matthew 12: 20). Give to us, we pray, the fire of your compassion, that we might bravely stand alongside all who need a visible and practical example of your love. Amen.
Would you please stand, take up your crosses, and hold them in your right hand out in front of you.
Please repeat after me:
Lord Jesus, thank you for the cross,
this symbol of your compassion for me.
I hold this cross now to my chest. (clasp it to your chest)
May it be a symbol of my compassion
For all who need your love.