I am reflecting today on the message of Good Friday and how it offers us the opportunity to examine the experience of human suffering as a spiritual wake-up call – to be more compassionate, empathetic and present for others.
I have been thinking of all the ways that like Jesus, we are left to suffer – and how often we leave others to suffer too.
How we judge and condemn others – and judge and condemn ourselves.
How we fall repeatedly in our weakness – or let others fall, saying, “They need to get their act together,” or “You should know/do/be better than this.”
How we see others unable to sit with our pain – and how we turn away from other’s pain, brokenness and mortality, because it reminds us too much of our own.
I have been thinking of Jesus on the cross, with no one to soothe his nail-ravaged hands and feet, or dab a cool wet cloth on his sweating brow. I think of how, instead of water to quench his thirst, he was given a sponge filled with vinegar.
How many of you have suffered alone in body and mind, bereft of hope, crying out for relief, only to receive bitter indifference from those around you? Who has soothed your wounds and helped you bear your burdens?
For many of us, there are those Simons of Cyrene or Veronicas, who tend to and help us shoulder the weight of our suffering, offering relief or the possibility of hope. But for some, that weight is incalculably heavy, the pain untenable. There is no hope.
Many years ago, my friend Bobby chose to enter a dank, filthy restroom in a New York City subway and end his life with his service revolver. I remember him today when I think of Jesus falling three times during his long, final, brutal walk and I wonder, had any of us really known, could we have lifted Bobby up enough to ease his burden?
I have been thinking especially of Jesus’s plaintive cry as he was dying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (My God, why have you forsaken me?)”
Could there be any worse feeling in the world than feeling abandoned? Literally left hanging – by the One who animated you into being, who declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) and who seems curiously absent when most urgently needed. Anyone who has been abandoned by a parent – whether as an infant given up for adoption, neglected due to divorce, addiction or other pursuits, or as a result of an untimely death – knows this feeling.
I have been thinking of the Marys, watching Jesus from a distance, unable to do more than weep and lament. And how, even though Jesus was accompanied on the hill by two other crucified men, he ultimately died alone, in darkness.
I remember when my grandmother was in hospice care how someone from the family was nearly always present at her side. She was loved and held as she slipped away from this life.
I saw other hospice patients in the throes of dying, alone and embraced only by the hospital blanket around their bodies. As I walked past the open door to their rooms, I held out my hand to them and offered my love. Sometimes that is all we can do.
(Image credit: Sheila Thomson)