My friends, as we continue our Lenten journey toward Easter and new life in Jesus; we are called, as in the first Sunday of Lent, to reflect upon death. Ironically, this past week, I found myself reflecting upon death for very personal reasons.
Within the course of our trip to China, which, in and of itself, was wonderful on many fronts; I experienced a return of the sciatica pain from last fall along with a new pain that doctors have told me is tendonitis or bursitis, or both. This new pain has felt like someone socked me really hard in the muscle below my right shoulder blade and it further presents itself as a stinging pain, when it isn’t otherwise simply being very sore. So that, added to the sciatica pain that shows itself, radiating up and down my entire left leg, makes it very hard to concentrate on anything else, when it is, shall we say, “alive and well.”
As a result; I found myself at times, this past week, wondering literally, if I could live with such pain. Of course these aren’t rational thoughts but the irrationality of the pain speaking. I have talked with some of you who have felt the same in your own times of pain and suffering. And again, this has nothing to do with right or wrong, sin or virtue, faith or unbelief—it is purely the human condition of being in physical pain. Further, it brought me personally, to a new understanding of what those with chronic, debilitating physical pain go through.
Add to that the pain of loneliness that one feels in the dead of night when sleep envelops the household and you agonize about awaking someone to join in your pain when they can’t really do much to take it away. Somewhere within that experience though, you decide to express your emotional vulnerability simply because the pain of doing so is less than that of being alone in the physical pain of the moment.
I found that the image of Jesus in the garden was a meaningful one for me. And too, I have reflected on what this experience was supposed to teach me in 2017 during the holy season of Lent. And please know that I share these thoughts not to gain your empathy, only to put into perspective these Scriptures that ask us to consider death and what brings life.
The Church asks each of us believers to consider some form of penance during these 40 days of Lent and I have always thought that the most meaningful fast or penance is the one that “breaks open my heart” –in effect, grows me as a person, into a more ardent follower of my brother Jesus.
To reach out then in the dark, in my loneliness and pain to the only other human present, was for me, to know the love of God at that moment. He held my hand until the pain subsided.
The gospel story this week is one showing the great humanity of our brother Jesus—love causes the lover to want to take the pain of the beloved—sometimes that is possible, sometimes it is not. But we are always called upon to, do what we can, to “untie and set free” those who are bound by pain, suffering, injustice, whatever it might be.
We are struck, I think, by Jesus’ expression of emotion at the death of his friend—and looking at this, we can never again say that our God is distant from us, or that God doesn’t care. Seeing Jesus’ expression here makes me know with confidence that God will be sad with me when I am sad and will likewise, rejoice with me in my happiness.
As we near the end of our Lenten journey, it might be good to ponder what it is that “breaks our hearts open,” helps us to see more clearly, hear messages that include, rather than divide, untie those who are bound. The Scriptures this week ask us to consider death and life—what brings death and what brings life—may we always choose life. Peace, my friends.