This post is part of our Lenten series, journeying the Stations of the Cross. In this meditation on the Thirteenth Station of the Cross, Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross, Contributor Tammi reminds us that God is always with us, working for our good, and in the midst of our struggles, He gives us what we need to persevere.
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”Were You there, African-American spiritual
Of all the solemn songs that are sung during the Lenten season, this is the one that has always had the most profound effect on me.
“Were you There?” This song begs the listener to reconnect with the feelings that would have been present at the scene of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It draws the listener into all the emotions that the singer speaks of.
I can imagine that many of the discussions amongst first century Christians would have been “where were you?” when Jesus Christ was crucified? “Where you there?” Questions would have abounded about what everyone saw and how the events unfolded. People would have wanted details of who he really was and a play-by-play of all the tragic events. The apostles who loved Jesus would have their own subjective view of each interaction.
There is something about being physically present during a time of great suffering. Bystanders and those actively engaged in a tragedy often discuss how tragedy can unify people. Mourning the loss of a loved one becomes bearable when we can share that pain with others.
“Where were you?” These three words are often the first thing we hear from someone we love when they are suffering on their own. We need community. We need others to share the load of tragedy and suffering. When others come and sit with us in our pain, we feel supported. We feel the relief when our burden is eased.
We need to be present to the needs of others.
But what happens when we ourselves are suffering?
We see a beautiful model of selfless suffering throughout the Stations of the Cross. Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem, his mother, and then St. John as he struggles for breath. He comforts the dying sinner who is being crucified with him, as well. Jesus shares in the grief and pain of those who look lovingly at him throughout his suffering. He models for us what it means to suffer well for the greatest good.
As we come into Holy Week, I can’t help but feel like this is the longest Lenten season I have ever lived. For me, the load and burdens of walking through the desert with Our Lord began over a year ago. I don’t know if the Easter season in the Church will feel like a personal Easter for me, as I don’t see many of those emotional burdens being lifted. What I do know is that God is asking me to carry them. As a student in the school of the Holy Spirit, the Lord has continued to ask me to be His hands and feet, a beacon of healing for many of those whom I encounter daily. My own personal suffering can not be an impediment to His work. In fact, it is in my suffering, that I can speak more kindly, think more thoughtfully, and listen more thoroughly, because I know the language of suffering.
St. Teresa of Avila reminds us:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
When we remember that we each need healing, that everyone needs the love of Christ, we can see where our willingness to offer what we can as an instrument of healing is our responsibility. We need to be the hands and feet of Christ. It is our willingness to help those who God places in our lives, which will be an instrument in the facilitation of our own healing.
Christ loved when he was mocked. He forgave with each blow of the whip. His utterance “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” ( Luke 23:34) is a reminder of His willingness to love first.
The greatest lesson for us to learn about suffering is that God allows it. He does not leave us to carry it alone, but He walks with us. He knows that there are so many lessons that he continues to teach us through our daily struggles. As the load gets heavier and heavier, The Lord speaks these words over us in Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The Lord asks us to lean on him and trust that He will give us everything we need. Under the weight of what “appears” to be impossible situations, the Lord helps us to learn true dependence on Him. He proves His faithfulness time and time again.
The morning that I had to leave town to be a Confirmation sponsor for my young cousin, I received a call from one of my employees that we had a laundry list of “issues” to fix. This came on top of months of financial struggle, and the emotional toll that my husband’s current health issues have had on our family. Going out of town seemed like the worst decision when so much seemed to be falling in around me. However, I had made a commitment to my young cousin, and I knew what an amazing experience Confirmation would be for her.
So many thoughts went through my mind: Do I leave knowing I have all of this work on my plate? Why now? Lord, why are you allowing these new burdens at such a tough time? However, as my mind raced, the words of the Spirit washed over me. Do you trust?
A few days later, I sat next to my cousin listening to the powerful words of the bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee. I listened as he spoke such beautiful truths to these young men and woman. I heard the gentle sobs of my little cousin as the Holy Spirit delivered his gifts into her life. I was there to place my arm around her and remind her that she was loved and chosen by God. It was an opportunity that I was given, to lead this little one into a relationship with the Holy Spirit, Who I had come to depend on and lean into. As I listened, in the quiet of my heart, I heard the words of the Spirit… ask this holy man for a blessing.
When the sacrament was over, I found Father outside taking pictures with many of the young families from the Confirmation. When I asked if I could get a blessing, he gently asked for my name, and placed both of his hands over my head. He said, “I pray for the peace of the Holy Spirit to be over all of your past endeavors, and all of your future endeavors. May you be filled with His gift of joy and peace.”
There it was. My gift for the rest of the journey. I was not alone. The Lord knew exactly what I needed. I needed a bishop in Tennessee, who didn’t know me or my situations, to impart peace over me. It was my willingness to put aside my struggles to serve my little cousin that the Lord was able to impart a gift over my life as well.
Let us remember that God is always working for our good. He is always making a way to true freedom. He desires to free our hearts and to unburden us.