Have you ever sat in worship and thought to yourself, “This is getting old”? Sometimes even the most devout Christians can find themselves in a rut, feeling as if all they are doing is spinning their wheels spiritually. The answer is not to give up on worship, but rather to explore ways in which our worship experience can inform our “real-world” experience.
Take for instance, the issue of suffering. Some have asked me what to say to those in the midst of great suffering. The one thing I can say for sure is that no course or internship at a seminary can provide the words to say to those who are hurting. Many times we only make matters worse when we try to mend deep wounds with shallow words, all the while inadvertently minimizing the pain felt by those who grieve. The only answer that I can give, and the only answer that I feel gives us any hope, is that God in the person of Jesus Christ knows what it is to suffer. Normally in worship, if we speak of suffering it is in relation to what Christ endured.
Communion is a specific time when we reflect on the night of Jesus betrayal, and how in the Last Supper Jesus instituted a memorial full of depth and meaning. But is it possible that when we gather around the table, there is more than simply Christ’s suffering in view? When we surround our Lord’s Table, we discover a Messiah who understands our humanity even in its most painful moments.
Our God is not one who casually observes our trials and tribulations, desensitized to the human experience. No, ours is a God who took on human flesh, walked among us, and came face to face with loss, pain, and betrayal. For a long time, I never paid much attention to Paul’s words to the Corinthians that “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread” (I Cor. 11:23). It is possible to read Paul’s account of the Last Supper through the lens of not just Jesus’ suffering, but our own. When we do, those words, “on the night when he was betrayed” become much more than a side-note referencing the time when Jesus chose to institute this feast we celebrate in His honor. Rather, they stand as a testimony to suffering Christ endured, even before the cross. They remind us of a God who not only suffers, but suffers with us. Of all the times to inaugurate a feast celebrating our liberation from sin and death, Jesus chose a time when one of his closest friends was in the process of betraying Him. He chose a time when the ominous shadow of the cross stood before Him, dominating the landscape of His future.
When we experience moments of great loss we are tempted to ask why God allows suffering. Instead of dwelling on the presence of suffering, as Christians we must challenge ourselves to delight in the presence of a God who entered our world of sin and death, and suffered Himself. Communion is God’s reminder to us that just as the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross was eclipsed by His resurrection, so our periods of pain and loss will be eclipsed by God’s promise of new and abundant life in Christ. How marvelous is our God who snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, and life from the cold grasp of death itself. How wonderful is the Lamb of God who not only dies to take away the sins of the world, but in the end stands victorious beside the throne of God itself.
Justin Simmons graduated with his M.A. from the University of South Carolina and continued on to receive his M. Div. from Emory University. He is now minister of a church in Glenmora, Louisiana. He loves reading, sports and hanging out with his wife and kids. You can read more on his blog here.