At the church I serve, nearly every meeting, rehearsal or class ends with the sharing of high and lows, joys and concerns.
We live in the tension between the ecstasy and the agony of life, with some less-than-exciting moments in between. It is a good practice to pause daily to be aware of blessings and trouble, and to express our gratitude and our needs.
As pastor, I have watched how some people who are not practiced at this exercise are slow to share prayerfully. Sometimes I struggle to decide what I want to say in a moment like that.
Do I want to share something safe — like a relative who has a physical ailment — or do I want to share that I am anxious or discouraged today?
Am I willing to be vulnerable with my struggles and can I trust the people in the room to handle this concern carefully, especially if it involves other people?
Sometimes confidentiality limits what I can share but I usually acknowledge if there are heavy pastoral concerns weighing on me, even when I cannot share what they are. This authenticity helps me to be a healthier pastor, I think, because I am acknowledging the troubles in life that are so real.
Palm Sunday is the perfect example of a day in the life of Jesus that has the enormous tension of joy and concern. The people of Jerusalem celebrate his arrival and throw an awesome parade, but Jesus knows they misunderstand him.
His suffering love and “power made perfect in weakness” is radically different from the kings of his day and from the powerful people of our day.
Those who are waving branches today and throwing their cloaks as a carpet along the road will be shouting “Crucify him!” in just a few days.
Christ lived in the tension of this human existence with its love and joy, its misunderstanding and suffering. As the old spiritual says, “Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by himself.”
The fact that he walked it does not mean that we can avoid life’s struggles. No, we still experience deep pain and face death, every one of us.
Yet we know that Christ has endured it and feels our pain, uniting us to God’s spirit in life-giving ways. So we have the strength to press on and the hope to believe that death will never get the final word.
All suffering has redemptive power now, because of the miracle of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection.
Oh death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God — life and love will win in the end every time.
The Rev. Elizabeth Deibert is the pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald, written by local clergy members.