Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains
I stand here among the pilgrims for the chanting of the psalms. I know that many who dedicate themselves to obedience in Christ assume grief and suffering are the virtues that make them holy. I’ve known some use suffering to nurture their own ability for empathy and for all human suffering, while others just seem to exacerbate their own personal pain as the ritual itself. Some of these suffering Christians seem stuck in the Lenten agonies, intent on some kind of unannounced race to out-do one another in suffering pain. Surely I am missing something here.
Isaiah spoke of a “suffering servant.” [Is.52:13-53:12] Maybe it was a metaphor for the suffering of the nation of Israel. It was an unwinding of the Israelite history after the captivity by the Babylonians. Then Christians used the same verses to make Isaiah’s Suffering Servant seem a prophecy of Christ. [Romans 10:16; 15:21](Footnote) And sure enough, Jesus suffered so that was the needed proof that one man was the holy savior of ancient prophecy.
Whatever may be said through twists and contortions of holy relic in wood chips, somehow it’s become a notion that human pain can be a portal to a God who suffers. In these strange times the brutal showpiece of political execution has become a sacred symbol. How easily the message of the love of God, the whole of Jesus’ teachings, becomes no more than a decorative frill on the reliquary. So I wonder are Christians keeping the suffering and loosing the servant?
Now here I am in my mystical belonging with my human friend Jesus, ‘the way and the truth and the life,’ as I knew him to be. And I am leftover, a physical sign for the spiritual gift of life forever. Self-sacrifice is something I could never attain, always buoyed back into health and life by the simple love and beauty of it all.
Just now Brother Crathius hurries by with a long bench (oblivious to my presence here as a healed man). He’s discovered that the Rule of Columbanus has a nearly hidden detail that excuses the sick and elderly from standing long hours for the chanting of Psalms. He can fulfill his assignment to care for the monks he was sent to look after by taking them a bench to sit down and ease their hurting feet and knees. No, maybe we aren’t missing the servant after all in the subtle gestures of caring for one another.
Footnote: Brettler, Marc Zvi, and Levine, Amy-Jill “The Bible with and without Jesus,” How Jews and Christians read the same stories differently, (HarperCollins) 2020. Chapter 9.