I guess all loss is unplanned and unwelcomed. It happens nevertheless, and when it does it is a good idea to what lessons we might learn and blessings we might acquire. I mentioned my Buddy, Chemo who hurt me to help me, and then my Birthmark, the evidence of God’s love when I entered his world. There’s one more lesson, and it was delivered in the form of a Brace.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Ephesians 1:13
During my much less than happy time a few years back I broke my neck. The cancer had all but dissolved one of my vertebrae, which through surgery, was replaced by titanium rods and plates, which are being held together with screws (lots of them). Before and after the surgery I had to wear this uncomfortable and awkward neck brace, like the ones you see on TV when someone’s had a car accident. It made me look quite pitiful, and if there was an upside to it, it was the special treatment I got in bank lines and at crosswalks. I’d never in all my life so often heard, “Go ahead, sir.”
But the best perk came at Golden Gate Park at a massive free-of-charge open-air concert that my kids and I attended. A wealthy benefactor had underwritten the cost of the event where hundreds of thousands of music lovers attended for free. We got there late and the music had long since begun. It was an gorgeous day – uncommon to San Francisco – and there was an expansive forest of people already planted on their blankets and beach chairs. We started toward what looked like a possible empty spot to sit when an usher immediately prohibited us from entering an off-limits area, but then beckoned us to follow him. To our amazement, he led us to a little fenced-off area right up close to the stage. “Yay! Look how God provides,” I whispered to my kids as we laid our blankets down and began savoring the music and sunshine.
As I looked around, I noticed that all the spectators in that special area had something in common. At first I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but then it dawned on me. They all had braces, collars, crutches, or wheelchairs. We were in the disabled section! Quite accidentally, my collar came through for us, about which my kids said, “Dad, from now on, wherever we go, as long as we need seats, you go with us!” Oh yeah, suffering has its perks.
In the verse above I’m particularly drawn to the concept of being “included in Christ.” The way the brace procured for us good seats had absolutely nothing to do with my abilities, but everything to do with my disabilities. The disabled – and nothing but the disabled – were included in a place of privilege, up close to where the action was. All of us hobbled, propped up by walkers and crutches, we, the Company of the Broken, had the best seats in the house!
I was thinking that we’re all invited to God’s free show, that Jesus’ sufferings underwrote the whole salvation event. It’s his suffering – not ours – that got us into the show to begin with. He’s the only one I know who chose to suffer, to lose on purpose. He qualified us to get “in.” Our ticket is not our suffering, but his. You don’t have to suffer to be saved. He did all that kind of suffering, the redemptive kind – “saving sufferings.”
But it’s our suffering that seems to get us some pretty good seats, to be up close to him, in a place of intimacy with him. Paul, an early sufferer of some note, wrote that he craved with all his heart to “know Jesus in the fellowship of his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10) Along with a special comradeship between sufferers at the table there’s a unique communion with the one at the head of the table, Jesus our model sufferer. He beckons us to take up our own cross and follow him – to not only be willing to suffer for him but with him in his sufferings.
In my journal during that season I wrote – “When I’m hurting it’s like I have something in common with you. I know that you are “close to the broken hearted,” and I have enjoyed your presence over and over, but this experience seems even more than that. It’s not just that you are close to me when I’m suffering, but that I am close to you. I know that you are feeling my pain, but if I am not mistaken about this, I’m feeling some of yours, and when I do, my sufferings seem more sensible, almost desirable. If they press me closer to your heart and give me a better idea of what you felt as human, and even feel as the God who still suffers, then I can endure.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” David originally wrote these words in the twenty-second chapter of his journal. He was venting his own personal pain over his unbearable persecutions and rejection. Fast forward a millennium and a half, Jesus eked out these same words while dying on his cross. That Jesus could identify with the Psalmist’s pain (and ours) is an exquisite thought! But what takes even more of my breath away is that David, in his day, was able to actually feel something of what Jesus would someday feel. He sampled “the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings” before Jesus even suffered them, and it’s my understanding that it was necessary for him to experience them in order to prophesy about them.
I’m saying that David didn’t merely predict the sufferings of the Lord; he entered into them through his own sufferings! He felt some of what the Lord was going to feel, a kind of prequel to Jesus’ agony. And who could’ve been a more apt candidate to feel Jesus’ heartbeat as a sufferer than the one known as the man “after the contents of God’s heart”?
Could it be that our sufferings today can accomplish the same thing after his sufferings happened in history? If David can feel what Jesus was going to feel and enter an exquisite fellowship with him because of it, cannot we feel what Jesus felt and thus be included into that same communion?