75 years ago, almost to the day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached his last sermon. His congregation were fellow prisoners in the punishment block at Flossenbuerg. He took as his text, “By his wounds we are healed.”(Isaiah 53:5) That is one of the things that makes this week so hard to endure. All through the week we are appalled at the terrible suffering, mental and physical that Jesus is undergoing. And yet we know that this very suffering changed the world for us. How can we welcome the healing that his crucifixion brought us when we know the terrible cost? It is only by knowing that he did it for love. He did it because he wanted to. His gift to us was the costliest gift he could make, the gift that proved his love for us beyond all doubt. How can we look on that love and not love him in return?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer suffered in his imprisonment and death. He did it for love of the German people, because he knew God loved them too. Maximilian Kolbe died a horrible drawn out death in Auschwitz. For the sake of another prisoner he imitated His Lord. All over the world there are people who give their lives for others: for their family, for the oppressed, for the environment or by trying to bring healing and peace to broken peoples. Many give their lives simply out of love for God, refusing to betray him, or deny him. What makes their death different from Christ’s?
In one sense, nothing. It is the same. They are taken up in his offering. Their suffering becomes his suffering and his love becomes their love. That is one of the great mysteries of suffering. It seems to make no sense. How many of us have watched a friend or loved family member die of cancer? How many of us today watch with horror as so many people die of the coronavirus? How many of us are moved to tears to find those now sick are doctors, nurses, health workers who have caught the virus because they cared for others. This suffering is not new. We see it in civil wars. We watch as innocent villagers are terrorised and brutalised by different military groups. We watch the bombing of enemy towns, the suffering of ordinary people in countries against which we have imposed sanctions, or to which we have sold arms and bombs. It makes no sense, except the sense that Christ’s suffering makes. Christ is there in their pain, their fear, their death. Christ calls us to be there, too and to see that we have a choice. We can see this as meaningless, inevitable suffering; or we can look for ways in which we can make a difference. Christ didn’t suffer simply to forgive us our sins. He suffered to call us into his own ongoing struggle to rid the world of the sin that causes so much pain.
It is not enough in this passiontide simply to watch Christ go through his suffering. It is not enough even to identify with him in his pain. “By his wounds we are healed.” We are healed of selfishness, spite, envy; of hard heartedness and a lack of compassion for the poor. When we ask Christ to heal us of our sins on this Good Friday we must ask also for his gift of love, to love those whom he loves, and to love them at great cost, to the end.