Rector's Blog: Proclaiming Suffering, Proclaiming Joy
Something really beautiful happened during the Annual Meeting this Sunday. Actually, it happened more than once, and it kept happening. First of all, I want to say that the meeting itself was magical: Over a hundred members of our Church of the Redeemer community showed up for the Zoom call. This was the first time many of us had seen each other’s faces in 11 months and was certainly the biggest remote gathering we’ve had during the pandemic. I could see the joy and the longing in people’s eyes.
But then the most beautiful thing happened. When it came time for an open Q&A with me, people kept raising their hands with no questions to ask: They just wanted to use the space to thank different members of the congregation and staff. We witnessed a spontaneous emergence of testimonies about how the Church of the Redeemer has been a source of stability, love, and connection for so many over the past year. Words bubbled up from a deep well of gratitude and affection. I was overcome.
Articulating love is important. I know that talk can be cheap, and we want our actions to be genuinely loving. But also saying the words, “I love you” makes a difference. It makes a difference in your heart to say it, and it makes a difference to those who receive it. Our Scriptures call Jesus the Word of God. That means Christians see words as carrying with them transformation and redemption, the power to heal. I was reminded of that this past Sunday when I heard you speak with such affection and joy for our Stephen Ministers and musicians, for our clergy and neighborhood connector groups. Your words changed you when you said them, and they changed me when I heard them. Articulating love is important.
This Lent we continue to focus on Proclaiming the Dream of the Beloved Community. We know that we want to more fully know Jesus and grow in Love. We know that doing so will change us. But what will that change look like? What do we want to move towards? Speaking our dreams and hopes, articulating our love, is a part of making that happen. Becoming the Beloved Community necessitates developing the skill to speak our hearts.
And to be clear, speaking our hearts does not always mean saying the joyful, exciting things. I was bowled over by Howard Thurman’s words as presented in our Lenten “Meditations of the Heart” devotional series this past week. He wrote, “Often there is great relief in being able to put into words the quality or the very nuance of need and suffering. To suffer in dumb silence, to be able to find no word capable of voicing what is being experienced, seems degrading to the self…”
This is the other side of the same coin. Sometimes articulating love looks like speaking your joy and gratitude. Other times, though, it looks like speaking clearly about your pain. On a personal level, I have been trying to be more honest about this. Like most people, when someone asks, “How are you?” I am programmed to say, “I’m fine, thanks.” Lately, I have been working at saying things like, “I’m having a tough time. How about you?” or, “I’m really tired of this pandemic and I miss people.” Because that’s the truth, and when I’m speaking truth to someone I love, I want them to know what’s really happening with me. Proclaiming your suffering, like proclaiming your joy, is an act of articulating Love. Neither your joy nor your pain should suffer in dumb silence. Articulating every aspect of your love is important.
This is not either/or: The goal is for us to have a deeper, fuller sense of the whole human experience. In Jesus, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. This was an act of honoring and loving humanity in its fullness. God did not merely dress up in human disguise or manifest as a human for a day or two. In Jesus we see God living a human life, which means we see divinity in the broad spectrum of our feelings, in our suffering and joy, in our exuberance and annoyance. The same Jesus who says, “Do not worry,” says, “how long must I endure this faithless generation?” The same Jesus who looks down from the cross and says, “Forgive them Father” says, “My God why have you forsaken me?” This is not a contradiction or an embarrassment: it is a portrayal of the fullness of our humanity. Joy and sorrow, side by side – Jesus articulating Love in all its nuance and truth.
This is, I believe, the crux of Lent, and really the crux of the Christian pilgrimage on Earth: the movement towards Jesus is a movement towards the fullness of our humanity. After all, our humanity is a gift from God. We were made human, and our lives are filled with the full spectrum of feelings. You are God’s creation, and your life is imbued with the divine fingerprint. To tell the truth of what it feels like to be you right now is to tell a piece of the truth of how God is present and working in the world.
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