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~ After Easter, the Passion Continues ~

Some popular mantras today are, "Teach tolerance," "Celebrate diversity," and "Respect others' values and truths." Like most slogans, they sound good and even noble. But, in essence, they are not examined. So how can they be practiced?

How do we teach tolerance if we are intolerant of those who are intolerant? How do we celebrate diversity when we don't recognize what binds us in unity? How do we respect the values and truths of others while not respecting how they conflict with our own? Are we to respect conflicts and embrace dissension as virtues?

When asked to identify universal commonalties between all people of all cultures, faiths, and behaviors, we often think in terms of needs. We all need security, love, hope, dignity and food and water. Yet some of us are not secure and do not know how to love. Many hunger for food and water on emotional and spiritual levels as well as the physical. These are not, however, experiences that bind us, that we all share.

One that is a universal experience we all share can be framed by the popular metaphor of the elephant in the room, the elephant we agree to pretend isn't there since we can't get it to leave. It is suffering.

We all suffer in some way. In that suffering grows worry, secret anxieties, fears, vulnerabilities, indignities and longings. Personally and socially, we harbor them behind a facade of success, strength, happiness, power or control.

As people read this, some may think of their employment and income problems, some of their children and loved ones, some of their ailments, of their present and future prospects, adversities and challenges. Don't we all have some thing? Don't we all live with some kind of pain, hurt, bitterness, anxiety, longing or distressful memory?

Children are held up as the model for many virtues, yet even they are not exempt from worry, anxiety, secret harbors of demons that cackle with the haunting of suffering and fear. Others who are also not exempt are those we address as Pastor, Your Honor, Your Excellency, Officer, Doctor, Mr. President, Your Majesty, Professor, Boss, Commander, Your Holiness and the many famous, folk hero celebrities, gurus, radio and television psychologists, comedians and show hosts. Suffering is the human universality that binds us, and, like the elephant in the room, few want to celebrate its presence. We would rather celebrate our diversity. That is much safer, and, essentially, meaningless.

God well knows the universality of our suffering, that which binds us together. So He chose to incarnate into suffering among animals and lowly shepherds and into the scorn of the rich, righteous and powerful. He chose to live among those who did not pretend to not be in suffering and to die among the suffering. He chose to suffer Himself. Thus Paul writes, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV). And, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (2 Corinthians 13-5).

Popular culture regards suffering as a curse to extinguish quickly, via medications, pleasure distractions, counseling, questioning and blaming, and even euthanasia...after all, "I would rather die than live like this." The Christian view is vastly contrary, so I do not "celebrate" those diverse ones that contradict it. Christ entered our world as the Suffering Servant, establishing a profound basis for worshipping Him as God-Incarnate. If I cannot offer Him my suffering as He offered His to me, with gratitude instead of complaining and questioning, I cannot worship Him at all. Jesus declared we must worship "in spirit and in truth" and my spirit and my truth and those of my brothers and sisters are embedded in suffering, the human condition that binds us all.

In the face of the popularity and attractiveness of the theology behind the one minute "Sinner's prayer" and the "Four Spiritual Laws" for instant salvation (very new in the two thousand years of Christian history, so new your great grandparents probably didn't know about them), Jesus was quite adamant about what some would have a hard time explaining away in the dichotomy between "works" and "grace." However unclear we Christians are, Jesus was very clear: "Then [the King] will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'" (Matthew 25:41-45).

You are probably quite familiar with that quote of Jesus. Many of us are also familiar with His passion, which we just finished honoring and contemplating, culminating in last Sunday's Easter celebration. But just as the power of His resurrection continues today, so does His passion and suffering. We know the stories. We now must know and share the experiences. That is what will bind us together as brothers and sisters. Not our tolerance of each other's proclivities and "personal truths" but our sharing of each other's passions and sufferings, thus worshiping by meaningful works the Christ in His passion and suffering. 

The one man crucified along side of Jesus did not know the "Sinners prayer" and did not ask the Christ to save his soul from the torment of hell out of self interest. He knew who was hanging beside him and merely asked, "Lord, remember me when you enter your kingdom." That man has been there for the last two thousand years, and will be there forever. We can pray the same, "Lord, remember me and my sufferings. I and they are yours to remember. Your remembrance means your participation. Your participation means my redemption. My participation in your sufferings also means my redemption." The narcissistic question, "Why me, Lord? Why this pain after all I did in your name?" is exposed for the ignorance out of which it comes.

Jesus told that man, "Today you will be with me in paradise." How do you think that promise affected how he experienced his remaining suffering on earth?

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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