Sunday, March 29, 2015

Patient Suffering

After the penitential rite at the beginning of mass, the priest says "let us pray", then pauses for all of us to pray in silence, the he gathers all our prayer in the Collect. I suspect that most of the time we pay very little attention to the content of this prayer. If we did we might pause before saying amen.

Every collect is written in approximately the same form. It addresses God (ex. Almighty and ever-living God), then it recalls something God did in the past (who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross), then there is a petition, and a closing.

In the Collect today we asked, "graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection." But how many of us really want God to do that? As a culture we don't care much for either patience or suffering. We want what we want and we want life pain free.

Notice how we react if our internet connection slows down. Or walk into the local pharmacy and see how many shelves are dedicated to making sure we never experience pain. How much is spent each year in this country on alcohol and legal and illegal drugs to try and numb the pain of life? How many times do we, in order to avoid pain, avoid dealing with the truth in families and other relationships? The primitive parts of our brain are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we should go looking for pain or intentionally inflict pain on ourselves or someone else. But when the inevitable pain of life comes, we should not run away from it. We must pass through it. We cannot go around it.

We read the passion twice: at the beginning of Holy Week and on Good Friday. We read it twice because it is easy for us to embrace the resurrection but not the passion. Look at how even the word itself has chested meanings. In Latin it referred to suffering or endurance. In modern English it most often refers to strong feeling or intense emotion about someone or something, usually a strong positve feeling. We have inverted the word.

We often talk about being counter-cultural, but what we usually mean by that is criticizing someone else. Being truly counter cultural requires us to be self-critical to look at the culture or our own mind and heart, our patterns of behavior, our patterns of responding and having the courage to critique them.

It is worth noting that the words passion and patience come from the same Latin word "patior." Holy Week calls us to embrace both suffering and patience. It invites us have the courage to walk with Christ, to enter into his passion and the passion of life, to experience it with patience, and with the absolute faith that there is resurrection on the other side.