As we go into the Lent season, our attention is called to the sufferings of Christ in the week before His crucifixion. Of course, we know that Christ suffered, not only in this week, but throughout His whole life, until He said, “It is finished.”
The first step of Christ’s suffering was His lowly birth, or really the fact that He, the only begotten son of the Most High God must come down into the likeness of sinful man. He must enter into a body made of dust. Certainly this was suffering for Christ. After this, of course, Christ suffered all through His life. Try to picture, for instance, the Holy Christ walking in the streets of today. How it would pain Him to see His own chosen ones going along with the world, cursing and fighting against Him. We can understand some of this from our own experience. Certainly it causes sorrow when we see a close friend or relative going astray, leading a worldly life. This especially if we have seen them once walking in the fear of God. However, in this, we may be comforted in the words of our baptism form when it tells us that God will keep his own from sin or turn it to their profit. We can be comforted also when we read in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God…”
Another source of sorrow takes the form of persecution for being Christians. Especially today when a Christian must give up his job or join a worldly union. Undoubtedly it is becoming harder for a Christian to live in this world, and continue in his Christian walk of life.
But here too we can be comforted. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and John; how they sang in prison because they might suffer for Christ. Remember how Paul counted it joy to suffer for Christ. Indeed all the apostles enjoyed their suffering for Christ. Christ comforts us too when He says: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
But we have another cause for suffering, and this is probably our greatest cause of suffering.
The first part of our Catechism deals with the misery of man because he himself is so sinful. How our sins mount up against us, as the Psalmist puts it, “prevailing day by day.” We can certainly agree with the apostle Paul when he says: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil that I would not, that do I.” What suffering it is for the Christian when at night he reflects back on the day which is passed and sees how far short he falls from the calling to do all things to the glory of God. Then he cries out with the publican: “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
But here too we have comfort for we read: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is because Christ has borne our sins; Christ suffered for our iniquities. If we were to pay the penalty we would have no comfort, for then our sins would only result in eternal death. But since Christ has died for our sins, we know that our sins, and all our suffering, is for our preparation to Eternal Life.
But let us look back at the suffering of Christ. All through His life He lived among those who didn’t want Him. They wanted a man who would give them all the pleasures of this life; they wanted a man who could heal all their earthly diseases and feed them with earthly bread. They wanted an earthly Savior.
But did they want a king who would send them affliction; did they want a king who would chastise them with hunger and diseases? All through Christ’s life He was sought after by the multitudes for earthly satisfaction. Even His disciples, shortly before His death, argued among themselves who would be the greatest in His kingdom. And when finally, at the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples saw the downfall of all their earthly dreams; they fled and left Christ. How Christ must have suffered when Peter, shortly after, denied, cursing, that he never knew Him.
Going back to Gethsemane, we remember how Christ, when He foresaw the suffering ahead of Him, sweat drops of blood, and prayed to have, if possible, the cup removed from Him. But, no; God’s justice must be satisfied; God’s wrath must be borne. Stop to think: if one sin is enough to condemn a person to hell, and Christ had to bear all the sins of all the elect of all ages, what a tremendous load Christ must bear. And Christ did bear the burden; Christ did descend into hell. But, Christ rose out of the depths. He had overcome hell, the devil, and his whole dominion. He had saved all His chosen from eternal death and washed them clean of all their sins. He made them blameless before God so that God could say, “I behold no sin in Israel, no iniquity in Jacob.” This was Christ’s comfort.