Suffering: No Escape

Today, we begin the Holy Triduum, the high holy days of the Christian tradition. The movement from betrayal, fear, and anxiety to suffering, humiliation, and death, to ultimately joy, hope, and new life is marked on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. Intense experiences to consider during an essentially long weekend. Or, perhaps these are the deep moments of human existence we navigate throughout the whole of our lives, and they are just compressed into the experience of Jesus across these celebrations.

While the joy and hope of the resurrection climax the faith and these days, human suffering stands at their center.

My parents taught me as a boy an important lesson: “Life isn’t fair.” When my older brother in high school would have a day off and my grade school had classes, my mom would offer a reasonable explanation to which I would respond, “But that’s not fair.” She would then speak the three-word truth. Countless instances abound.

As I matured, the stakes and truth grew more grave. It wasn’t just a matter of life not being fair, a more difficult, even painful reality impressed me: All of life includes suffering. There is no escaping it. Whether physical, emotional, relational, or social, each of us experiences real pain and suffering. The Triduum teaches us, however, that we are never alone in our life-threatening challenges. Jesus, fully human, experienced suffering, and he carries his cross with us, and we, in turn, carry ours with him. We carry all of ours together; everyone gets at least one.

A friend recently shared how, from her childhood, every Palm Sunday she would go to church secretly hoping that the story would change: Pilate would set Jesus free, and he would not have to suffer. She knew this would never happen, but she still holds on to this wish. To be human, fully human, includes suffering. Even our God-human savior could not avoid it.

How we enter into our suffering is critical. Our faith informs us with abundance. We know that we have Simons of Cyrene who help us; we know that suffering ends in new life; we know that mercy showers our pain and humiliation; we know that our pain will not last forever.

But, it still hurts. And, we still wish that the story could change. It doesn’t, yet our Christian faith into which we are baptized brings us to Jesus: To have communion in his crucified body, to kiss his cross, and to dance at the empty tomb of his resurrection.

Thank God we are not alone when we suffer. We have Jesus and the billions of people who share our Easter faith to stand with us for support.