As I looked around Christ Chapel, I could see that nearly half of the students gathered there stood staring across the room at one another, as the rest of the congregation quietly took their seats. Tears welled up in many eyes, and a palpable silence filled the room. The standing congregation represented the universal presence of suffering in the human experience, and Laura Whaley (a 30-year old breast cancer survivor and our chapel speaker for the morning) had just invited anyone who was currently facing suffering to remain standing.
“When one part of the body is hurting, the whole body feels it,” Laura said.
Tears filled my eyes as I watched Cornerstone mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15).
“Every single person in this room either has suffered, is currently suffering, or will suffer,” Laura explained, and although we can’t escape suffering (John 16:33), we can choose to let God give purpose to our suffering, forming us by the virtues of humility and integrity.
It would be moving for anyone to see such faith amidst suffering so clearly in the faces of the students standing around me, but Laura’s story hits particularly close to home for me. Laura is my sister-in-law, and, in the last 15 months, I have watched as she suffered through the horrors of cancer and its collateral damage. In that time, I have seen Laura exhibit the kind of purposeful suffering that she spoke about in chapel, with the humility to say “God, I am yours, work in me,” and the integrity to put humility in action by saying “God, here I am, work through me.” (2 Cor 12:9). Regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, Laura’s testimony teaches us that God uses our hurting “to sanctify us, to testify to a hurting world and to draw our hearts into deeper worship of him.”
Laura’s message formed an appropriate backdrop for the following chapel service that week. It has become an annual CU tradition to observe Good Friday on Wednesday of Holy Week, the last chapel service before campus shuts down from Friday to Monday and spends the weekend reflecting on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. This year, we spent this time hearing a collection of dramatic readings from the Gospel of Mark which highlighted Jesus’ final week before His death. Our Savior entered the royal city of Jerusalem on Sunday hailed by His followers as a king; by Friday, He was deserted by His friends, dragged out of the city and executed as a terrorist enemy of the state.
However, the shock of betrayal, the sting of desertion and longing for justice are not experiences unique to the Son of God. As we recalled Jesus’ suffering for us, we also heard how his cries of anguish from the cross (Psalm 22; Heb 5:7) echo our own despair in times of suffering. On the floor beneath the cross in Christ Chapel, we wrote out our personal prayers of lament or prayers of intercession for those in need with markers on large windowpanes. In lamenting our suffering alongside Jesus’ own cries to the Father, we are reminded that He was forsaken so that we would never be abandoned (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:4-6). With gratitude and awe at the depths of God’s unearned love, we left Christ Chapel in the same silence and darkness that filled Jesus’ tomb that Friday night.
When we gathered for chapel again one week later, it was with the awareness that something miraculous and wonderful had taken place. The Father “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:4). The windowpanes that had held our prayers of lament one week before were transformed with the reminder that God has redeemed Christ’s suffering, is redeeming our suffering and one day will redeem all suffering (Rev 21:3-4).
As we recounted how this truth changes not only our individual perspectives but also our relationships and communities, we sang songs celebrating Jesus’ final coming when He will establish justice for all people (Psalm 98:9). We prayed for God’s kingdom to come and for His mighty name to break down barriers of hurt and oppression and unite His people in love (Eph 2:14-16). We called on the name of Jesus, the only one who is able to transform our suffering and sorrow into rejoicing. The grave is empty, and the miracle of the resurrection is the proof that just as the Father answered the prayer of the Son, so He will answer the prayers of His children when they call on Him.