The Apostle Paul once said: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
You might read that and think Paul sure sounds like a glutton for punishment! In actuality, he was a glutton for healing and this was his pathway to it.
“For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
What an odd turn of phrase! What a contradiction! But in that simple statement is the heart of Paul’s faith and the heart of Lent.
Paul often uses the phrase “Christ crucified” almost as if it is Jesus’ first and last name (it’s not). But the reason he uses this language is because he has discovered the secret of the crucifixion of Christ and that is this: It is a mirror of God. Here’s what I mean:
When you are going through, let’s say, the loss of a loved one, you can receive a lot of support. But the most meaningful support you will receive comes from those who have experienced a similar loss themselves.
That is what God accomplished in the crucifixion.
If we say that Jesus is God incarnate, then that is God up there on that cross. Suffering. Bleeding. Dying.
Why would God do this? So that when you are suffering and bleeding and dying, you can know that God, through Jesus Christ, has been through the very same thing. And if you have ever been in a place of real hardship, you know how important this is.
Only a suffering God understands. Only a suffering God really knows what you are going through. Only a suffering God can help. This is why the cross is so important.
Most people prefer an invincible God; a God who is above the fray and who, at a whim, can correct all that is wrong. The truth is, that’s not the God of Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ is in the mud of life, the unfairness of life, the loneliness of life.
Into those moments, our suffering God offers companionship. God says: “I’m here and I know what you are going through. I’ve been there. It’s hell, I know. But you’re not alone. I’m right here and I’ll never let this be the end.”
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It is in our moments of weakness that we are best able to discover the loving power of our suffering God and, there, find new strength.
This is at the heart of one of the greatest ironies and challenges of our faith: That the cross is both a symbol of agony and a symbol of renewal.
One of the not-so-hidden aspects of Lent…