Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday in Holy Week: The Worst. Collect. Ever.

Holy Week is a journey to the cross and beyond ... and every day is a different step. This week, I'll be offering a reflection for each step of the journey for us as a Cathedral community.

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed.

Jesus wasn't whistling on the cross.
“Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time,” the collect for today tells us.

“Accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time.”

The collect for Wednesday in Holy Week is hideous and offensive.

While using Jesus’ passion as an example, it puts an expectation on us that even Jesus could not fulfill. Not that he even should have.

Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed.

What a crock.

There was nothing joyful about Jesus acceptance of his sufferings. He prayed for deliverance in the garden of Gethsemane. He cried from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” And here at his last supper with his disciples, we hear again as we heard yesterday that Jesus was troubled in spirit.

Jesus didn’t joyfully accept sufferings. This isn’t Monty Python’s Brian whistling “always look on the bright side of life” while hanging on the cross. As confident as Jesus was of the glory that shall be revealed, there was no joy about his passion. And to put that image on him dishonors the depth of the agony of his passion. And to hold ourselves -- and to imagine that God holds us to that standard -- is unChristian at best and really just downright cruel.

What we do this week matters not because some man suffered, and certainly not because he suffered joyfully, but because God, the divine self, loved us so much God became human and felt the depth of human pain.

And the collect gets it wrong here, too. The deepest pain we hear today is not Jesus’ body being whipped and his face spat upon.

The deepest pain we hear today is the pain of betrayal.

I can’t imagine a deeper pain than betrayal. As agonizing as it was for those nails to pierce Jesus’ flesh on Friday, I believe the pain in today’s Gospel reading was even more devastating.

Jesus, gathered around people he had shared his life with for three years, people he had trusted with his deepest truths, whom he had loved and called friend. Jesus says to them “one of you – my beloved, my friends, the ones I have traveled with, hung out with, shared with, laughed with, cried with, got chased out of towns within an inch of our lives with – one of YOU will betray me.”

There is no pain like betrayal because betrayal calls into question our ability to trust anything or anybody. And without trust, we cannot receive love because without trust we cannot believe love.

I have stared death in the face and known I could walk that road because of who was walking with me. But when I have been betrayed, I stood alone, paralyzed, not only afraid to take a step but not even knowing how.

And it was not joyful.

Shana one of my spiritual guides from the Magdalene community in Nashville, was betrayed as a young child when her grandfather molested her. She was betrayed by her mother at age 12 when her mother let a drug dealer sell her for sex and give her drugs. She spent more than 20 years on the street, had 167 arrests and had her personal motto tattooed across her chest:

Trust No One.

There is nothing joyful about that suffering. There is no child who should gracefully accept those sufferings of the present time, and to even hint that she should is an outrage and a sin against the God in whose name we pray.

The truth of the passion is not that we should accept our sufferings joyfully. We should rail against them and we should rail against the sufferings of others.

The truth of the passion is that the power of those sufferings, the power of betrayal to destroy trust and with it our ability to receive love – as great as it is – pales in comparison to the power of love to heal.

The truth of the passion is not that we should silver lining sufferings – ours or anyone else’s, but that we can know that those sufferings, terrible as they are, do not need to define us. That there is love out there for us. That there are people and indeed a God who is worthy of our trust. And that we indeed are worthy of that love for no other reason that God created us in the divine image, called us good and adores us beyond understanding.

There is a glory that shall be revealed. It is the glory of Easter. Of love more powerful than death. Of the victorious transition from victim to survivor.

There is a glory that shall be revealed. It is the glory that allows Shana to tell a new chapter to her story. One that has her clean and sober, done with parole, having a job and a house and spending her life helping get other women off the streets.

There is a glory that shall be revealed and it is there beyond our sufferings for all of us. It is that new chapter that awaits for all of us.

Not because we joyfully accept those sufferings but because we refuse to believe they can end us.

Because we know that as we walk this road with Jesus, the empty tomb, not the cross, is our final destination.


Gloria said...

Thank you! I simply could not use that collect this morning. I wish that I had your blog before I had to do my homily!

Anonymous said...

Powerful commentary. I've been betrayed and need this message.

Drew Keane said...

The proper collect for this day in the 1928 Prayer Book is better, I think: "ASSIST us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation; that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby thou hast given unto us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Still, the collect in the new prayer book (which my parish doesn't use) isn't nearly as bad as this essay suggests. The bit about joy in sufferings isn't foolish, it's an allusion to James 1 and Hebrews 12.2. It certainly need not be read to imply suffering doesn't hurt or that the hurt doesn't get acknowledged for the awful thing it is. Rather, for a people of hope and faith, there is a broader perspective that can can be joyful about the redemption of all things -- even sufferings. Moreover, the smiting and spitting is a metonomy for the whole Passion drawn directly from Isaiah 50.6 -- one can hardly fault language that follows the greatest of the Hebrew poets.

I think this essay reads a problem into this collect that isn't there. If it is there, it's much more of a problem for the Isaiah, James, and the author of Hebrews than it is folly on the part of the Liturgical Commission member[s] who wrote it.

L.S. "Bo" Dean said...

needed. thank you. I read the other comments. It is often interesting to read those who have "ears to hear" and those who clearly just need to speak. Thank you for sharing this and thank God for my "ears to hear", but most importantly for the very human disposition of our Jesus and his example of life and struggle to perfection.

The Rev. Christopher C. Richardson said...

I agree with so many things in this article. This is a powerful message that needs to be told over and over again. I just wish the message didn't include the negativity regarding the collect for today.

If the collect said we should be "happy about the sufferings of the present time," I could see finding complaint in it. The collect, however, speaks of joy.

Yes, there is a glory that shall be revealed. Yes, love is more powerful than death. Yes, there is a new chapter for all of us. Yes, we walk a journey with Jesus that takes us to an empty tomb. Yes, this knowledge is cause for joy.

Joy does not negate pain and suffering. Joy does not make bad things go away. Instead, joy abides with us while we weep, giving us strength to go on. Joy is what allows Jesus to be troubled in spirit and, ten verses later, when Judas had gone out to betray him, say "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him."

Again, I think the rest of this is spot on. We should not immediately leap to silver linings and/or Monty Python sing-a-longs as a response to our own suffering or the suffering of others. Shana should not be told she should be happy or grateful for what she endured. I hope, however, that she has been able to find joy in spite of it, as I hope all people are able to find joy in spite of suffering, because, as you said, "we refuse to believe [suffering] can end us," and "the cross is not our final destination."

Scott said...

Excellent point about betrayal's horrid power. In the ninth level of hell, Dante placed those who betrayed a special relationship.