We don’t have a clue what it’s like to be stricken with something like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis—ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease. We don’t know what it’s like to have our bodies slowly quit working and then eventually shut down, all the while our minds are doing just fine.
We don’t know the guilt that befalls these folks when they think about what it does to families and friends and finances. We don’t know what it’s like.
Jesus does. He’s taken on every burden of the human condition. In his short period of time on earth, and his even shorter period of time on the cross, he experienced the fullness of the human condition, including the brokenness of debilitating disease. Part of his suffering was to convey to us that he was and is not only sympathetic to our issues, he’s also empathetic. He knows what it feels like. He knows the frustration. He knows what it’s like to have folks avoid you, or get too close to your face, even if the intentions are so very well meaning.
He knows what it’s like to have all of your dignity stripped away as your body is tended, learning not to look at what they are doing to you, but still cringing inside at the very thought of it. This is a major aspect of the suffering servant of God, one of the titles and roles of our Lord Jesus.
We look not just to an empty cross, the great sign of the victory of the Risen Christ, we also embrace the crucifix, affirming that Jesus not only transforms the human condition, he also embraces it; the pain and embarrassment and ineptness and paralysis and shame and despair and sin to which we are all subject. Sometimes, all too often in fact, there are those who turn away from the Faith because of these terrible experiences. What a tragedy.
A.J. Gossip a mid 20th century Presbyterian pastor responds to this in the first sermon he wrote after his wife’s tragic illness and death:
“I do not understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can fling away peevishly from the Christian Faith. In God’s name, fling to what? Have we not lost enough without losing that too?”
“If Christ is right—if, as he says, there are somehow, hidden away from our eyes as yet, still there, wisdom and planning and kindness and love in these dark dispensations—then we can see them through. But if Christ was wrong, and that is not so; if God set his foot on my home crudely, heedlessly, blunderingly, blindly, as I unawares might tread upon some insect in my path—have I not the right to be angry and sore? If Christ was right, and immortality and the dear hopes of which he speaks do really lie a little way ahead, we can manage to make our way to them. But if it is not so—if it is all over, if there is nothing more, how dark the darkness grows! You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.”