The Way of Suffering Love
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 25, 2018
Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday
Mark 11:1-11; 14:1-15:47
A theater professor said, “Everyone has something they struggle with…. The more we share our stories, [the more] we understand how universal our suffering is…and that no one’s really alone.”
A recent college graduate said, “Going through everything I have, I have realized that there are people that love me and that will take care of me when I need it and that I will return the favor, and that kind of takes care of any stuff that, you know, has happened, is happening, will happen.”
A minister who watched a loved one suffer from being attacked, said, “It isn’t…fighting back that makes fears diminish. It’s love. Love is what…casts out fear. So it isn’t appropriate for us to be responding…making decisions based on fear, but rather making decisions based…on how we can be loving of one another so that fear does not take hold, so that fear can’t multiply and grow into something so destructive.”
Everyone who loves learns sooner or later that love inevitably involves us in suffering. Love leads us to feel compassion, which means literally to suffer with others. Love opens us, makes us vulnerable, and we can get hurt. Love longs to hold onto what we love, and then what we love gets taken away from us by change, by violence, by death.
But love that suffers and continues to love leads to reconciliation and healing. It brings social and personal transformation. The way of suffering love leads through loss to resurrection.
We can see this at work in the characters in the Passion story. Jesus had healed Mary Magdelene and transformed her life through his love. She became one of his leading disciples. Imagine how her heart tore apart to see his humiliation and torture on the cross, and yet she did not turn away. She endured the suffering that her love demanded of her and kept loving, and as a result, she was there at the tomb on Easter morning.
Think about Peter. Peter boasted that he would never desert Jesus, and then, when opportunity to suffer came, he found that he loved his own safety more than he loved Jesus. He denied Jesus three times. Peter suffered terrible remorse, and from that suffering he did not flee. He was humbled, ashamed, but after the crucifixion he continued to love and follow Christ, and as a result he was there at Pentecost to share his wisdom and lead the first church.
Consider Judas. The ruin of Judas seemed to be his betrayal of Jesus, but really his downfall was his betrayal of suffering love. Christ’s love and forgiveness are great enough to include even his betrayer. Judas could have chosen Peter’s response to guilt, but Judas despaired and cut himself off, so the infinite power of love to transform even the worst of lives could not help him in the end.
Jesus showed how complete love can be. He loved those who had done wrong. He loved those his society treated as outcasts. He loved and forgave even those who crucified him. He chose to love and suffer and keep loving rather than act out of his pain or fear in the Garden of Gethsemane.
His love led him to confront governments and institutions that inflicted suffering on others—to confront them with the weapons of nonviolent love.
The wisest saints have recognized that while suffering love may look foolish and weak, it is the greatest wisdom and power in the universe. Bombs can destroy, but suffering love has the power to create. It creates friends where there have been enemies, it restores broken community. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. harnessed its power in their nonviolent movements.
Suffering love has changed the course of empires. It can change the course of our lives, too. A man I knew was almost paralyzed with fear, facing multiple threats of loss that had come upon him. I asked what would happen to him if the worst that he could imagine came to pass.
He thought for a moment and I could see in his eyes the suffering he anticipated, but then his face changed, and he said quietly, “I have faith in love.” He had faith that loving community would see him through. He had faith that his love would give his suffering meaning, that loving through his suffering would enable him to grow stronger and wiser and find grace and peace.
Holy Week offers us those gifts. The more we enter into this week, the more we will gain from it. I encourage you to come on Thursday evening and deepen the experience. The way of love transforms our suffering. It leads to Easter dawn. Let us pray in silence…