Image: Charlie Thrasher, Paulatuk Elder
There is a beautiful little ritual from the rite of the Baptism of Children where the minister touches the ears and the mouth of the child being baptised and says the following.
“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak.May he soon touch your ears to receive his word,and your mouth to proclaim his faith,to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
Rereading these words I am struck by how similar they are to the words of Isaiah found in today’s first reading.
The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue.So that I may know how to reply to the weariedhe provides me with speech.Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.The Lord has opened my ear.
The congruence of these two passages is a reminder to us how the call of the “Suffering Servant” and the invitation of Baptism are closely linked and, if Jesus embodies the role of God’s servant, then our journey is also linked closely with his. This Holy Week that journey entails picking up and carrying a heavy cross.
It is one thing to follow Jesus when things are rosy but what does Baptism and the call to follow Christ really ask of us when it comes to undergoing true suffering?
In the isolated villages of Canada’s far north there is no shortage of tragedy and suffering. Addiction is rampant, suicide in some communities is almost at epidemic levels, particularly among the young. For the elders, many of whom were abused in Residential Schools, the pain of a lost culture is still very close to the surface. In the midst of this deep hurt there is also something else present, faith. For many survivors of some of life’s toughest battles their saving grace has been their steadfast faith in God because without it they would not have survived.
Jesus’s journey to Calvary would not have been possible were it not for his utter dependence on his Father. Many times Jesus asked that the cup of bitterness that he was about to drink be taken from him but, as an obedient servant, he continued the mission knowing he would not be abandoned even if those around him would plot his demise. In that obedience and trust he found the will to carry on.
Suffering is not something that we seek in our lives though our world seems far too consumed by it. God abhors suffering, though some find that the presence of suffering undermines the idea that God could exist in the first place. Yet it is in suffering that many people come to find a deep reservoir of courage that they often cannot explain except in terms of a “Greater Power”, to use the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is almost as if, until we have experienced a real trial in our life, our faith remains lukewarm.
We are on the cusp of the Easter Triduum, the three days of the Church’s year which celebrate the depths of the Pascal Mystery. It will begin with betrayal, abandonment and suffering but we know that is not the end of the story. The mystery concludes with the greatest triumph over suffering, the conquering of death itself.