Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Ascended Lord Who Suffered and Died

That resurrection has nail holes in it is important. That the crucified-risen Jesus is bodily ascended into heaven reinforces the point. I remember one of my first major pastoral failures. At the hospital bed with an elderly woman sweating blood about dying in a forthcoming operation. In a nutshell, she wanted to live and sought assurance from me that she would. I gave that assurance. Cheaply. And she died. Christ sweated blood at Gethsemane, and there was no cheap (worthless) grace. God does not necessarily save us from suffering, does not necessarily heal us, and we all have to die. (Isn't there a book title, 'Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven but Nobody Wants To Die'? Or words to that effect.) That God in the flesh suffered and brought salvation, is resurrected and still has nail holes, and is then bodily resurrected (that is, Jesus' personal history of suffering is taken into heaven, is part of the sacred story of his fulfillment as a human person) suggests to me that we should not immediately seek only to avoid suffering and death. Of course we seek healing, but a deeper response leaves open the possibility of Gethsemane. Death and suffering might not be part of God's plan, but God uses suffering and death, often inscrutably, for God's purposes. The good news is that the resurrection and ascension tells us that all shall be well, eventually anyway! God shows us in Jesus how God can rework sin, suffering and death for salvation and completion.

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