Sometimes it can be a struggle to reconcile deep personal disappointment or sadness with our life as a Christian, as a man or woman of faith. We can easily get the impression that if we relied on our faith, we would be more hopeful, positive, or joyful. It’s easy to slide into thinking that if we were stronger in our beliefs, we would be happier.
Yet, the opposite is true. We have a faith that can hold great sadness in one hand, and great joy in the other. We can speak of Resurrection and New Life in the same breath that we speak of death and unimaginable loss. Goodness and evil, grief and hope, and darkness and light are all part of God’s creation, and part of the stages of life that most of us experience.
The scriptures are full of sadness and despair. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" wasn’t only one of the last phrases said by the dying Jesus. It is also the opening verse to Psalm 22. The rest of the paragraph continues, "Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but I find no rest."
This is part of our experience. It doesn’t make us any less human, or a lesser Christian. In contrast, it is a faithful expression of our humanity and of our real experience. Jesus was always one to welcome honest human experiences. He didn’t want people pretending that anything was different than it really was. He didn’t appreciate hypocrisy.
We don’t know much about the early life of Jesus. Bible stories tell us that he was a poor child, born to an engaged, but unmarried teenage mother. His family escaped persecution by emigrating and becoming refugees in Egypt. History tells us that Nazareth was a mile or two from Sepphoris, the site where many Jews were killed or enslaved while Jesus was a young boy. When he was 12 and the family traveled to Jerusalem, he was accidentally left behind for a few days before his parents realized that he was missing. Scholars assume his father Joseph died when Jesus was young. After Jesus was found in the temple, Joseph is never mentioned again in the scriptures.
So, although we don’t know much about Jesus’ early years, we do know that he was no stranger to family problems, political problems, and many kinds of grief. Certainly, as he grew, he was immersed in practically every problem imaginable. He spent time with grieving mothers and sisters, those who suffered the depths of poverty, terrible family situations, all kinds of disability, poor decisions, being marginated, and those who experienced the effects of discrimination. He didn’t pretend that any of it was small, and he didn’t discount anyone. He suffered with them, did what he could to change things, and loved those in situations that weren’t able to be changed.
He also found himself surrounded by terrible events that he couldn’t control. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus died. He gave himself up to the suffering that surrounded him. But the great part of the story is that it didn’t end there. Our experience is a smaller part of a bigger picture. We don’t know the rest of our story. But we do know it is held by the God who loves us. Amen.