14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
I will never forget my former seminary professor, Bill Mallard, sharing how he went to a friend’s house after her husband had been killed in a car accident far too young in Atlanta. Knowing Bill was a theologian, in her tears the grieving wife asked him, “Where is God in this?” Bill’s responded, “God is here with us…and God is weeping.” That has stayed with me and echoed in my heart more times than I care to recall. As a pastor, I am blessed to share so many wonderful and life-giving moments with people. I also share many painful and terrible moments. Many times I have shared Bill’s words with others. Often, I have had to say those words in my car on my ride home…not for others…but for me.
We declare each week in the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus is Lord, declaring Christ’s divine nature. We also declare that Jesus was born, suffered, crucified, died and buried. This expresses his human nature. In Christ’s divinity, his death and resurrection have cosmic significance, able to restore and redeem all of humanity and all of creation. In his humanity, his death on the cross is real and personal. Christ has shown each one of us the way to salvation, and because he died and his body was resurrected, he has conquered the enemies of sin and death. In Christ’s humanity, we see that God became one of us. “Born of the Virgin Mary” is not so much about the Virgin Mary as it is about “being born!” Birth connotes flesh and life. Jesus was born of a mother just as we were. Considering the horrific nature of humanity, the fact that God chose to become one of us is remarkable. Jesus even proudly called us brother and sister. God has become a human being, which means that, in a strange and wonderful way, God is with us.
In Christ’s humanity, God is one with us in our suffering. God is with us in the midst of our sorrow: in the midst of tragedy and pain; in the midst of our illness and our grief. One of the most powerful images in the New Testament is the image of Jesus weeping with Mary and Martha at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Whatever theologians may say about the reason Jesus wept, the reality is he wept. Weeping is not something we traditionally associate with God. Jesus is God in the flesh and in every way shared in our sufferings. No longer is our suffering something that we endure alone; Christ is in it with us. Just as Christ embraced his own suffering, he now embraces us in ours.
Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, wrote, “Suffering can only be consecrated to God by one who believes that Jesus is not dead. And it is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the Resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”
Merton goes on to say that suffering will come to us in life and put a question to us. Suffering will ask us, “Who are you?” When that happens, we must be ready to declare our own name and by that Merton means we must express the very depths of what we are, what we have desired to be, what we have become. He writes, “If we live as Christians, our name and our work and our personality will fit the pattern stamped in our souls by the sacramental character we wear. We get our name in baptism. That is because the depths of our soul are stamped, by that holy sacrament, with a supernatural identification which will eternally tell us who we were meant to be. Our baptism, which drowns us in the death of Christ, summons upon us all the sufferings of our life: their mission is to help us work out the pattern of our identity received in the sacrament. If, therefore, we desire to be what we are meant to be, and if we become what we are supposed to become, when suffering comes forth to questions us it will call forth from us both our own name and the name of Jesus. And we will find that we have begun to work out our destiny which is to be at once ourselves and Christ.”
In suffering we may find ourselves closer to Jesus, because he suffered as we do and knows the nature of suffering.
Finally, in Christ’s humanity, we have been liberated from the fear of death. Christ endured suffering to death on the cross. His resurrection and ascension make plain that death is not victorious. Death no longer holds the power over us that it did before. Through the suffering of Christ, now all suffering is transformed. Death has lost its sting. This reminded me of a question Billy Graham was recently asked, “Are you afraid to die?” His reply was, “I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of the process of dying, but I do not fear death because Christ has given us victory over death.”
The humanity of Christ is central to our faith. We declare it every week in the Creed. We declare it every moment in our suffering, knowing no matter what we face. “God is with us. And he understands our pain.”