During Lent especially, we also need to think about the suffering and passion of Jesus as a significant theological event for one very important reason. That event is the most significant biblical example of God suffering for the people. This echoes Hebrew Bible understandings that God suffers for, with, and because of the people of Israel. What the suffering on the cross really demonstrates is that God suffers with us in our suffering. One of Jesus' powerful messages was that God was now completely with the people. The profound relationship was solidified on the Cross.
In the world today, we are faced with suffering, especially because we know more about human suffering globally probably better than any time in the history of the world. We know about Syria, Palestine, and Uganda. We can get information faster about something around the world than we can about our own family sometimes. This access to information has led us to believe that suffering is something more intense in our own age. We seem to feel the world is going to hell in a hand basket. We as Christians can affirm that suffering is not something new, but rather Jesus suffers with the whole world daily, that the crucifixion was not a singular event but an ongoing one. God remains with the people even today.
But how is this lenten? In Lent we take up disciplines or fasts. We limit ourselves. We renew piety. We turn back to God. This is a time to reestablish that relationship our God has been so desperately trying to create. During Lent we may not suffer, but in our fast we may recreate that suffering. Our fellowship with God can be actualized in our solidarity with Jesus, and Jesus' solidarity with us. So as we look forward to resurrection Sunday, we also must remember that Good Friday must come first. We must suffer likewise before we can be resurrected. Here is the Good News: in our suffering we have a God that fully understands, fully desires us, fully wants us. Our goal is to strive on, making a way for the Kingdom to come. Our God is right there with us.
In my own life, I know that in my lenten fast, my hunger is a mere choice. While I joyfully do it, I recognize that over a billion world wide don't choose to go hungry. In recreating their suffering it is difficult to fully empathize with their daily struggle, but I know that Jesus is the most powerful one, who understands hunger and suffering better than I ever will.
Paul Richards is a certified candidate from the Texas Conference and a Senior Religious Studies Major at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Next year he will start at his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School. An intern at First UMC Conway in the College Ministry and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player, he enjoys sports and reading in his free time. He is excited about doing Pastoral Ministry in the future and working towards economic and social Justice in the United States and all over the world.