Theology 101

Lessons from Gethsemane: Bring Your Suffering to a Caring Savior This Easter

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Suffering can make it difficult for some to fully experience the joy of Easter. Perhaps you can relate. In your head, you know the good news of Easter, but in your heart, you’re still hurting. Singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” with gusto may be too hard right now. That’s OK.

I believe there’s a way to honestly approach Easter that allows us, no matter our heart condition, to create a small crack into which the precious salve of Easter can seep into our present suffering.

Approach Worship with Your Heart Close to the Surface

This year will be the first Easter my mom will spend in heaven after going home to be with Jesus last December. Ever since her home-going, worship is different for me. When I sing of “heaven and nature” singing together, I imagine her worshiping Christ in heaven, and the thought is overwhelming. She is free of sin and sickness and living in the loving embrace of the Lord.

But worshiping with my grief close to the surface means that things get a little messy in church. Tears come quickly because my raw emotions are being confronted with the reality of a loving God. The Holy Spirit has done some of his most tender work of healing during those times.

Psalm 62:8 says we can let our hearts not only rise to the surface but overflow to God: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

What if Christ had dutifully entered Good Friday without ever pouring out his heart the night before in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane?

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:38-39)

In Gethsemane, we get a fuller picture of the extent of Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. Bearing the weight of the world’s sin would impact him physically, emotionally, even relationally. What a precious gift for his prayer to be recorded in scripture. It’s a model for us of honest prayer (“Lord, I don’t want to do this!”) and of a heart struggling to obey and trust the will of a loving Father (“But I trust in your love”).

Allow Hope to Enter Your Disappointment

I love the personification of nature in scripture. In Romans 8, Paul speaks of how creation is yearning for Christ’s return, when all will be made right and who we were created to be in Christ will finally be unveiled in glory:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19)

Because of Easter, something good is coming—even creation knows it. All the disappointment, all the unfulfilled longings, all the pain of this life will be worth it. All of our struggles with sin will be gone.

The prophet Isaiah also personifies nature, describing the future triumphant walk of believers into glory as all of creation celebrates:

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).

Can you picture yourself walking down an aisle surrounded by mountains and trees singing and clapping with joy? Paul writes, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

Yet this future hope is unseen (Rom. 8:24) and not as tangible as our suffering. Are hope and suffering contradictory?

Expect Beauty to Come from Ashes

Nancy Guthrie, founder of the grief recovery program GriefShare, says that both hope and joy can coexist with sorrow and suffering:

I actually think that a person who has had great sorrow has a larger capacity for joy. It’s almost as if the sorrow expands our capacity so that we can feel joy more deeply, more persistently.

The paradox of following Christ is that a suffering believer can flourish. Christ turns our ashes into beauty as a living demonstration of his love:

To grant those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3).

How we respond to our suffering has profound implications for our work. It is my prayer that you would be open to the love of God entering your deepest pain this Easter that something beautiful will come from it in every aspect of your life. A Blessed Easter to you!

Photo credit: Ian Scott

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