Sunday 31st January

God who suffers with us!

The suffering which is the lot of so many people has been brought home to us by the pandemic. The news that over 100,000 have died in our country and over 2m world-wide is tragic. It is difficult to comprehend the grief and despair, fear, loneliness, mental illness and the loss of livelihood.

Wednesday 27 January was International Holocaust Memorial Day when the world remembered 6 million Jews who were killed during the 2nd World War and the thousands of men, women and children who have been the victims of genocide. Apart from the great sense of loss, death can be accompanied by memories many which can bring so much joy. During such times we often experience much kindness, care and generosity from so many, including some with whom we had little more than a nodding acquaintance. I am reminded of the words of a very wise man who said: Christianity doesn’t explain suffering; it shows us what to do with it. (Baron von Hugel, 1795 – 1870).

For many suffering is accompanied by the strong conviction that God is a loving Creator who cares deeply for his people and even accompanies them into a new future undefeated by the terrible loss. The greatest mistake we often make in our thinking about suffering is to put God on the wrong side – that is over and against us. We picture him as judge and jury
– using suffering to do things to us – to teach us a lesson – when in fact God shares with the pain and suffering in all its terrible destructiveness.

Good Friday is the place where God himself endures the reality of pain and suffering. Good Friday is not complete without Easter Day. Together, they present us with the complete picture. There we see, not only God sharing the reality of our suffering, but enabling us to use it creatively and discover something positive in it – by using it as a force for good. We don’t always find pain and suffering accompanied by compassion. But we can be certain that amidst our suffering God is on our side. Suffering is his before it is ours. It’s part of his eternal Calvary. God suffers with us and enables us to use suffering to bring something
creative out of it.

God, you are constantly present and accessible to each of us; we marvel at your astonishing approachability and gentle intimacy.
May we give expression to our gratitude as we worship you.
May your Spirit touch us and refresh us with hope and new life.
We pray for all who grieve the death of loved ones, those who are suffering physically and mentally from the devastation of this pandemic and from the injustice which afflicts so many.
May they feel the comfort of your presence, discover renewed confidence and meaningful purpose in life.
We delight that even in suffering you do not abandon us but enable us to discover new ways to serve you and one another.
May the joy of resurrection emerge out of the despair and pain we encounter, bringing hope, peace and fulfilment.
May the example and experience of Jesus Christ who suffered, died and rose again be a real presence in our lives too.

Michael Diffey