“Do you still remember why I had to suffer?”

Lent and Passiontide… It can feel like pain and sorrow. Compassion is what is called for! At the same time, however, it becomes clear that Christians must never forget why their Saviour Jesus Christ had to suffer: it was for them!

The Son of God is considered as an example that illustrates that people who suffer have an advocate at their side. He always defended and often healed the poor, the sad, and the sick. “Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matthew 4: 24).

However, this picture gradually changed and Jesus Himself became the one who suffered and was quite insistent when He pointed this out to His disciples: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16: 21).

Following the first Sunday in March, which is traditionally celebrated as the divine service for the departed within the New Apostolic Church, the passion of Christ moves into the focus of the New Apostolic services. The days leading up to Holy Saturday recall the time of Jesus’ suffering. This period poses a serious question to the Christian about the state of his relationship with God: Are you on the road to Emmaus or are you still involved and right in the middle of things?

“Have I not suffered for you?”

“The Suffering Servant of God” is the caption of the sermon on the second Sunday in March. The outward picture is pitiful and shocking: a man smitten and afflicted by God, who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”, it says in an ancient text by Isaiah. Its value is inordinately precious: He, the Son of Man sent by God, did nothing but allow Himself to be bruised for the sake of humanity so that we might have peace, Isaiah concludes. What a testimony!

This shows quite clearly that we humans live because He died, we are healed because He suffered for us. The Suffering Servant of God becomes the Saviour of mankind. Ideally, this leads to profound gratitude toward God. Trust is established, which should be a great comfort especially in difficult situations: the trusting Christian knows that God promised His kingdom to the little flock (Luke 12: 32).

“Am I not with you?”

Personal experience tells the believer that the kingdom of God does not begin only in the far distant future. After all, the celebration of Holy Communion is proof of His presence. The sermon on the third Sunday of March will explore this mystery of faith. The Old Testament already refers to this, albeit in different terms. However, if the reader interprets the corresponding passages from the perspective of Jesus’ life and works, they take on a deeper meaning: “Encourage one another, dear Christians; remember the works of Jesus. He brought His sacrifice for you and was thinking of every single one of you.”

In spite of its miraculous character, this makes the celebration of Holy Communion concrete!

“Let me enter too!”

The last Sunday in March is Palm Sunday, one of the high feasts in the liturgical calendar. The historical context is as follows: on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus told His disciples about His suffering for the third time and told them quite openly that this also meant danger for them. Their discipleship could cost them their lives. And yet everything makes sense, like a well thought-out plan whose implementation promises to be successful. So although the suffering of Jesus Christ will be the dominant theme until Easter, it is joy that will finally make its entry: Christ, the Saviour of the world will enter and holds everything securely in His hand. No crisis or catastrophe can prevent Him from leading His own into His kingdom.

Photo: Andrei Korzhyts

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Peter Johanning