This is the icon of the suffering servant written for me while I was in seminary – when I was entering the church. We will be using it on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week during which it has been the designated image of the church for many centuries. In the red of Matthew’s gospel, the “O Nymphos” or “Bridegroom” icon is beautiful in many ways, not the least for the way Jesus’ eyes are sad for the situation, and not for himself.
It is easy to so spiritualize the work of Holy Week that we forget that the will of God is at work in the passion of Christ. God is implicated. Mark uses the Greek word “dei” (“must”) in the first passion prediction (Mark 8:31). Then there is the rending of the temple curtain at the moment of Jesus’ death (Mark 15:38) and the tortured Gethsemane conversation between Jesus His Father.
The thing is that God is either omniscient or impotent. There is no in-between – no middle ground of political or celestial spin-doctoring. God is either all knowing with the will to ask this of Jesus or is, as our Deist forebears used to believe, simply unable to stop the unfolding of political and ecclesial cruelty at the hands of insecure leaders. And rather surprisingly, I get some hope from that. If God is acting to bring about something beyond the moment of pain and suffering imposed on Jesus, then perhaps there is some meaning, even if unseen, to our own suffering. Perhaps when we are in the same boat as Jesus is – manipulated, abused, maligned, falsely accused, – well then, perhaps we too are part of a plan larger than we can see – a plan under the hand of a loving God.
It comes down to faith. Do I believe there is a God who is working out God’s kingdom in the very best way possible and that what happens to us and around us is being redeemed, or do I believe that this is all a massive accident, or worse, some MadMax drama unfolding for a cruel audience? No. I believe that God loves and that all that happens, even as horrific as it seems, is being made whole. And I am willing not to know how that is happening.
So, in the end, we, you and I are not simply onlookers to an act that happened 2,000 years ago in a dusty hamlet. We are still part of the Kingdom’s unfolding and Jesus is the model for our courage and our hope. More than that, yes. But that none the less.