During the first days of grief, it was clear to me that God wanted to comfort me through the kindness of others. His ministry of strength came through the words and loving actions of so many. It came through the onslaught of cards and emails expressing sympathy. It came through the many shared stories of loved ones long gone. It came through charitable hugs and embraces that developed into deeper conversations. It came through shared tears. Suddenly, a door had been open to speak a common, but more profound, language together. I discovered a new fellowship, opened only by the way of loss.
I knew enough to understand that this outpouring of love and support was the working of the spiritual body of Christ. His were the arms that hugged me, his were the hands that held mine, his were the lips that spoke words of comfort and truth. His were the eyes that cried tears in tandem with mine. Through those around me, I let Jesus bind up my wounds (Psalm 147:3) shoulders my infirmities, carry my sorrows (Isaiah 53:4) and anoint me with gladness (Isaiah 61:3). And so I experienced the ministry of Jesus through his beautiful people. Not just any people. Broken people. People who knew loss. People who have cried, and mourned, and called upon the Lord in their time of weakness.
But do not be misled. This is not a fellowship of weakness. It is one of healing power. When Jesus entered the human condition, he entered a ministry of suffering. Everyday he walked on the earth, he chose to engage and transform the lives of those who were weak, grieved, helpless, distraught, diseased, and dying. Are we not all one of those at one time or another? Is this not our broken condition? His commitment never wavered as he willingly stepped into the most excruciating suffering, death on a cross – all for his fellowship with us. But this fellowship did not end in pain, or sorrow or death. He conquered it all, when he rose from the grave, and walked into the lives of his broken people, alive with an incomparable power. And he did this for us. This power is now ours. (Ephesians 1:19-20, Acts 1:8)
So if we are each bound individually to Christ, then we are bound collectively to each other. If we were bound to his power, then that power flows between us. Jesus is the sinew that binds us joint to joint, tissue to tissue. We are held together by his connective power, and so we are a body together, not apart. Isn’t the whole always greater than the sum of the parts? So Paul tells us that it works something like this: as our sorrows spill over, so the comfort of God flows into us. In turn, that comfort flows from us to others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). No, this fellowship of suffering is not one of weakness. It is a healing current, circulation, if you will. It is the flow of life throughout the body.
Paul wanted to know more about this kind of fellowship – this fellowship of loss but also of power. He wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I never really wanted that. Until now. Maybe there is something more, a new way that is opened up by suffering. A new fellowship. A new language. I think it is not the suffering that Paul wanted, but the deepened, sweeter intimacy with Jesus, and the conduit of healing and life that flowed from the Father. He wanted more of that. So do I.
What would it take on our part… on my part… to know Jesus more intimately? To know his sufferings. To know a broken Jesus, the one who wept and mourned, the one who cried out to God on a cross. The One who let the life flow from his body. But also to know his resurrected life, his newly resurrected power? How do we enter this fellowship with Jesus?
It seems we only have to step into it, our own sorrows and of those around us. He is in our own tears and those of our friends and families and neighbors. We do not need to be afraid. We can fearlessly step into the pain and sorrow, because we do it in his transformative power, and in it we step deeper into fellowship with him. It is not a way of death, but a way of life, and it will be our healing.
Give us courage, O Lord, to walk in your ways so that we may know the fullness of your presence.
“He was … a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering….
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him
and by his wounds we are healed.”
“Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.”
~ Mother Teresa
“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.”
~ Teresa of Avila