blessings for healing: suffering

I woke up early, remembering a promise.

Even though all fall away, I will never . . . 

I look out at the darkness. If I open the backdoor soon, I will hear the neighbor’s rooster announce the sunrise.

. . . even if I have to die with You. And all the disciples said the same thing, too.

My eyes itch from sleepiness. My daughter’s Snuggie wrapped around me to keep me warm. And I am full of sympathy for the first followers of Jesus. The ones who were right there. He had warned them it was time, He told them He was in agony, and He asked them to be on the look out while He prayed. But they were tired.

So you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation;
the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Matthew 26:40-41

* * * * *

I am convicted about effort. And how this week has become just like any other. How my excited dinner plans of two days ago went out the window last night with everyone scattered to activity. All it would have taken on my part was a little effort. A little self denial. A trip to the store. And maybe turning off the tv.

Ugh. Willing, but weak. So, so weak.

Jesus went alone to trial. To beatings. The disciples fled.

By morning, the crowds that had praised on Sunday were screaming crucifixion.

Peter grieved. He had made a promise to Jesus — a vow — and he couldn’t even last the night.

But all eleven disciples who fell asleep in the garden that night, who were afraid and fled, who denied they knew Jesus, who hid among the crowds, would suffer in time. Trials, beatings, stonings, imprisonment, exile, extremes of torture to death.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  — Matthew 5:10-12

I wonder how many of the disciples clung to these words in their own hours of agony.

* * * * *

My life has been ease. 

I’ve never been beaten, thrown in prison, or condemned to death for what I believe — and  I am not likely to.

But people are, still, today suffering for their commitment to follow Christ. They are fulfilling the promise to go with Jesus all the way — even if they have to die, they will not deny Him.

I think of Pastor Saeed, an American citizen who has been imprisoned and tortured and is awaiting a trial in Iran. And the thousands of others like him today, persecuted for their faith. (A news website, persecutionreport.org just launched this week to alert us of Christians who are suffering worldwide.)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3

I have suffered nothing.

Because I have had the good fortune of growing up, not just in a country that has the freedom of religion built right in to its Constitution. Because I was born into a family that embraced Christianity as truth.

In his book St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Through all his plunging and restless days ran the refrain: I have not suffered enough; I have not sacrificed enough; I am not yet worthy of the shadow of the crown of thorns.”

And since I finished reading the book last week, I’ve had a song flowing through my mind:

Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? — Isaac Watts

I have lived a comfortable life of ease when it comes to being a Christian. It’s easy to take it for granted.

* * * * *

But, the Beatitudes are just a preface. Jesus is about to open up a can of worms, and I get a little nauseous just thinking about it. Because as much as people love blessed are the merciful, they hate the hard words of Jesus.

I take a look at the words past this point of the Sermon on the Mount, and I want to hold up a white flag and shout, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

Hating the messenger, though, is kind of part of the deal. (There’s a caution here, though. Because some people like to claim being hated as a badge of honor. The fact people don’t like you doesn’t always mean you’re in the right.)

We have to be gentle with these hard words of Jesus.

Jumping onto political bandwagons, identifying publicly with a controversial cause just to provoke argument, re-posting memes with witty retorts . . .  only in the free West can we afford such wanton displays of wearing Christianity without costly discipleship. In the West, Christians have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves over Jesus’ words, of writing multitudes of books on them . . .

If it began to cost me something to follow Christ, to do and speak His words, would I follow? If the government and the will of the majority stripped away every last vestige of morality and sanctity of human life, and my beliefs are shouted down as bigotry and hate-speech?

The truth is, following Jesus will cost something. Even in America.

* * * * *

As the sun rises this morning, I am praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ, like Pastor Saeed, who are suffering more than I will ever know.

And I am thinking of Peter, who watched from the shadows that long morning while Jesus, beaten and bleeding, carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Peter, who had no idea at that moment what he was going to suffer for teaching Jesus’ hard words.

And I see hope for all who cower, ashamed of themselves, in the shadow of the crown of thorns.

Peter wrote a letter about suffering, very likely from Rome, where Nero was using Christians as torches to light his parties and feeding them to lions to amuse the jaded and bloodthirsty masses.

Here are some of Saint Peter’s words for this Good Friday:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return;
while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. I Peter 2:21-24

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  I Peter 3:14

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed. I Peter 4:12-14