Feeling Your Pain

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

In the British television series, Sherlock, the main character is able to deduce an amazing range of facts about people just by looking at them and noticing small details.

Uneven wear on a shoe, for example, tells Sherlock that the person has a limp and therefore feels insecure. Fingernails that look like they have been chewed indicate someone who is worried. A nervous twitch in the face is evidence that the person feels guilt about a crime committed in the past.

And though this modern version of Sherlock Holmes makes amazing calculations based on his observations, the premise of the show is common sense. If you look carefully at a person’s appearance, you’ll learn things about his or her inner life.

At the same time, though, we are well-aware of the limits of such deductions. Say you have suddenly lost your job. People will see you looking sad, and they will believe that they can comfort you. They will tell you that “It’s all for the best.” Or they’ll say: “You’ll get over the shock.”

But whatever these well-meaning folks think, they won’t be able to discern what is going on in your soul just by looking at you. Nor can they be sure of your inner feelings–even if they have themselves had similar experiences.

A friend who was herself once fired without warning might assure you that she can understand the emotional toll the loss is taking on you. She might say, “I can feel your pain.”

But while your friend means well, the fact is, she can’t feel your pain.

Deep down, your feelings are unique to you. You’re the only one who knows how you feel.

That’s why the story of the Raising of Lazarus that we heard in today’s Gospel is so important. The text isn’t only an account of the miracle that Jesus performs of bringing Lazarus back to life. What’s even more remarkable about the story is what happens before Christ brings Lazarus out of the tomb.

For when Jesus learns of his friend’s death, the text records twice that Jesus was “deeply moved.” It also notes that Jesus “began to weep.”

This picture of Jesus reveals something about him that we don’t usually find in the Gospel stories. In this passage, Christ isn’t a wise teacher. Nor does he appear as one who can calm storms. No, Jesus is portrayed in this text as a vulnerable human being.

Now I realize that this may not be our favorite picture of Jesus. We might prefer the miracle worker who can help us solve our problems or the Good Shepherd who tells us how much God loves us.

I suspect that the reason we prefer these images is that we are looking for something from God. And what could a weeping Christ do for us?

Happily, today’s Gospel story shows us that the empathetic Christ at the same time acts with the power of god! Even though Jesus is “greatly disturbed,” he orders the stone that seals the cave-like tomb to be moved. Then he stands at the opening of the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Lazarus does just that!

In this case, Christ doesn’t simply feel sorry for his friend. He helps him in a most spectacular way.

We can imagine that this story was retold over the years, and the original episode may have been elaborated upon by the followers of Jesus. But whatever the details surrounding the raising of Lazarus, it enriches our understanding of who Jesus was.

The text presents the familiar picture representation of Jesus showing his divine calling by a miracle of healing and power. At the same time, the text gives the less common view of Jesus as one who suffered as ordinary human beings suffer. Mourning the death of his friend Lazarus, he could feel what humans feel. He could suffer what humans suffer. And he could do something about it.

The setting is important, too. We most want God’s understanding during the bad times.

After all, we don’t think much about whether God is sharing our joy at a birthday party! What we need is a sense that God cares for us when things aren’t joyous!

Now some people don’t have any trouble detecting the human side of Christ. They have what they call, “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Praying is relaxed and intimate for them; it’s like speaking with a close friend.

But other Christians may be uncomfortable with this attitude. They think in more abstract terms. As a result, their prayer isn’t like ordinary conversation.

I find myself in the latter group. I tend naturally to think of the divinity of Christ. I’m not inclined to approach him as a friend.

But I appreciate that Jesus was a human being as I am. And so the humanity of Christ is a reminder that God can understand me. Really truly understand me—sensing my emotions as I feel them; seeing me more accurately than I see myself.

Thus, whatever our personal relationship with Jesus, he is our mediator. And he is our mediator especially because his suffering enables him to lighten the load of our suffering.

You have probably noticed how some churches have crosses prominently displayed, while other churches have crucifixes. Incarnation has a stone cross that is engraved in the reredos above our high altar. Other churches have crucifixes with the body of Jesus hanging upon them.

Now there are different rationales for each preference; one isn’t better or more Christian than the other. The plain or “empty” cross that we have in our church reminds us that after Jesus was crucified, he rose from the dead. And having died for our sins once and for all, he will never need to die again.

But there is also value in the display of a crucifix. It reminds us of the human agony of Jesus — what the church calls Christ’s Passion.

And the image of Christ on the Cross reminds us that in dying for us, he came to know the depths of human pain.

The bottom line is this: if you, too, are “greatly disturbed,” if you too are near weeping, and if you don’t want to reveal your pain to others because you feel they won’t understand it — well, you’re not alone in your suffering.

However bad you feel, Christ is with you. He’s been there himself. He has known the depths of human agony. And he does feel your pain.

Now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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