Sometimes when I am alone in the house, I yell at God—I did so just last week when my husband, Dan and my daughter, Leah were out on a walk. Life is not at all how I want it—people are suffering, and I feel powerless to help. I am trapped in the house, concerned about the church, and everyone I love who live in far away places, and nothing I do feels like enough. So, in those rare shelter-in-place moments where I am in the house alone, instead of taking a much-needed nap, I let God have it. For our souls are being ripped apart. I hope you will forgive me for saying, that if there were ever a Palm Sunday that I wanted to tell Jesus to get off his ass and do something, it is today!
The question on my mind as I rant at God is the same question on the minds of the people in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday as Jesus rides into town under shouts of “Hosanna!”—“Who is this? Who is this Jesus? All of Jerusalem is in turmoil over this question of, “who is this Jesus?” And what kind of God does this Jesus, this prophet, bring? What will he do for us? What comes after the parade?
We, too are in turmoil—who is Jesus and what will he do for us? We know what want—we want the Jesus who will fix this mess. We want the Jesus who will end the suffering, who will find a cure, who will stop the spread, who will save the children and the old people, and who will help us procure a vaccine in weeks instead of a year. We want Jesus with a God who will sweep in and wipe out the virus with a mighty hand an outstretched arm—a God who will save us, and protect our family, and free our country, and release our world from suffering.
This is the God I want today, this Holy Week, but the headlines in the morning and the news at night remind us that, like many faithful people before us, we are not getting the God we wanted.
Jesus does get off his ass, but not in order to take away the pain and the suffering, which after 2000 years, still puzzles us, and causes us to yell at an empty house. Instead he enters suffering, he accepts pain, he knowingly and willingly walks right into the pandemic of death to say to us, “this is where you will meet your God face to face, so fear not. I am here to take you by the hand in a life-long relationship so you know—in your own soul—the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for you, and my presence in you. It is greater than your suffering and stronger than death. You will experience it more and more as you let go and trust me, especially in suffering.”
God is not going to zap things and change things out there—God sent Jesus offering a relationship of love that changes us in here. And that is how God is working in us together to change the world out there to relieve suffering—by changing us from the inside out.
But suffering is never the end of the story—God’s movement is always to transform pain and death into new life, new joy, and indeed, resurrection. The question is not, whether we are we going to suffer, but “how are we going to deal with it?” Jesus enters Jerusalem—to transform suffering into new life.
We are living through Jesus’s Passion this week as we, and the world suffer together—how do we enter into suffering, enter the Passion with Jesus, enter this current crisis, open to the transformation of our suffering God to bring new life?
I have a simple prayer prescription for Holy Week and beyond:
First, be honest about the pain—yell at God like I do if you need to. Have a good cry, (which I have also done), go on a walk to relieve stress, write in a journal—find a way to get it out and give it to God. Know that God knows you and your suffering. Jesus is with you—he goes before you and behind you, above you and beneath you, beside you and within you. You are never alone.
Second, admit we have no control—that we are powerless over the Coronavirus and the effects it has, how much it will change our life, our routine, even our finances—and tell God, how much we hate that feeling of being out of control. Wait for the peace that comes when we stop trying to manage, control and fix it all. You can try the Peace Prayer—cup your hand and speak all of your troubles into them, and then lift your cupped hands, offering your troubles, yourself to God. Keep breathing deeply until you feel your body begin to relax and unclench.
Third, even though you may have done it before, turn your life over to Jesus anew every day. Raise your palm and say, “Jesus, I turn my will and my life over to you—all the way through to the cross—shape me through this suffering, into who you want me to be.”
Finally, continue to look for ways to turn Jesus’ passion into compassion for others who need to meet the God who suffers with them through you. Trust that God never allows the cross and its suffering to be the end of the story—it always leads to new life, it always leads to hope and it always leads to resurrection; Jesus leads us to let others know of the God who suffers with and for them and for whole world.
Who is this Jesus? He is God’s love meeting you in the breadth and length and height and depth of this moment of suffering and life, embracing us into renewed faith, greater hope, deeper peace. As it turns out, that is a God I want.