Holy Week

I met a homeless girl once. She was fifteen and had been beaten by her father and thrown out of her house. It turned out that she had witnessed her brother hanging himself and her family was falling apart. She asked me to help her find somewhere to stay. It was Sunday night so I took her to church while we called the social services to find out what to do.

She refused to go into the sanctuary so she was shown to a room at the back of the building. As I knelt to pray in the service, I caught a glimpse of a reflection in my watch face. I could see a small window high up on the back wall of the church. In the window sat the girl, her eyes glued on the proceedings.

When prayers had finished a women performed a drama of the crucifixion of Christ. If the girl was still watching, she would not mistake what was being portrayed - the suffering of Christ on the cross.

The crucifixion event was the culmination of a week littered with Christ's tears and anguish. On Sunday he wept over the city that he loved but would be destroyed, on Monday he found his Temple filled with thieves and was deeply angered, on Tuesday he delivered the apocalyptic discourse and predicted war, pestilence and natural disasters. On the same day, he predicted his own rejection. On Wednesday Satan entered Judas and the seed of betrayal was planted. On Thursday, as he tore the bread and poured the wine, he was confronted with his own destiny - the tearing of his own flesh and the dripping of his own blood. Then he served a meal to his friends, one of whom he knew would betray him and give him over to his death the very next day. That night he prayed to his Father in Heaven, “Take this cup from me, but not my will but yours.” He accepted his fate. He must die the next day. After he was betrayed, he was delivered into the hands of those who hated him. The next day, he was mocked, beaten, tried and rejected by his own community, his own people. Finally, after the capitulation of Pilate to the crowd's demands, he took up his cross and staggered towards a gruesome death. And as he hung there, blood dripping into his eyes, he turned to a repentant criminal and secured him a place in heaven. Then he died.

God is no distant, impersonal force. He did not stand aloof, pondering what it must be like to suffer. He entered fully into the experience. Consequently, he knew exactly what that young girl was going through: watching her brother hang, the rejection of the father, the slap across the face, the humiliation and alienation of nowhere to rest her head. Jesus understood the girl and knew what this was like. Did the girl, I wondered, understand Jesus? Had their eyes met and had they seen each other’s suffering? Sister Ruth Burrows once wrote about the meaning of Christ entering in to humanness:

“There is something awe inspiring in recalling the moment of one’s birth. Human birth! I wish I could speak adequately of this deep mystery. I can do nothing but recall the unutterable wonder that God too had a human birth: he came into the world as we come into it; he came to drink with us the bitter cup of humanness. He drank it to the dregs, and thereby transformed its bitterness. Bitter it is and yet sweet, for his lips meet ours over the brim.” (Sister Ruth Burrows )

As the young girl’s eyes met with the eyes of a crucified Christ during the drama in the church, there could be no mistake that Christ felt the most extreme pain possible. She was not alone in her suffering. It was a deep, knowing look that he offered her because he knew immeasurable pain.

After the service, the girl was whisked away by the local authorities and I expected not too see her again. However, a week later I saw her. She was shopping with her mother and said to me, “I just want to thank you for what you did. Things are different now.” I didn't know what “different” meant and didn't ask, but she seemed different.

I want you to consider the suffering of Christ this weekend. Don't rush on to Sunday, but linger a little at the cross. For it is on that cross that Jesus died for us. He suffered not merely to empathize with us, but change us. The only way things can be different is by admitting that you, like the young girl, are in need of Christ and what he did on that hill outside Jerusalem. That he died in your place to taste the cup of human bitterness and sin so that you might be transformed.

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