The path of suffering - Palm Sunday 2020

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We have listened solemnly to St Matthew’s account of the passion and death of the Lord. The path that our Lord Jesus Christ took to secure the salvation of humanity was the path of suffering. The relationship between God and man, fractured by sin, was to be restored by the Son of God offering himself as a perfect sacrifice on the cross. Christ chose and embraced the path of suffering so that humanity might be saved.

The reading of the Passion draws us to contemplate the mystery of human suffering. Now the whole world grapples with the reality of human suffering as it confronts the spread of the coronavirus. The daily news presents the global experience of human suffering, not only in the deaths of tens of thousands but in the anguish of peoples cut off from one another and uncertain of the future.

We are confronted daily with the reality of human suffering on a vast scale.

Much as each of us would wish to be free from suffering and avoid all pain we know that it is part of human experience.

Jesus came not to eliminate suffering but to embrace it and transform it. His suffering became the way of salvation.

The experience of suffering forces us out of our comfort and our self-possession. Suffering can free us from a selfish pursuit of personal happiness. Suffering can draw us back into an awareness of the fragility of human existence and help us avoid an inward-looking focus on our own self-protection. Suffering leads each of us to confront the full truth of human life, and can help us grow in our humanity. 

What becomes important then is to learn how to suffer. We need to rise above the temptation to self-pity or complaint. It is not by sidestepping or avoiding suffering, but rather it is our capacity to accept it when it comes. It will be our ability to find meaning in suffering that will free us from its debilitating effects on our spirit. The ultimate source of meaning will be through union with Christ. His suffering, as a supreme act of love, has given meaning and fruitfulness to all human suffering.

The human mystery is that suffering and love are intimately linked. As much as love can inspire the willingness to suffer, so too suffering actually generates love. We witness it at present as the world reels under this pandemic: love, especially self-sacrificing love, is being generated in all sorts of ways – from the dedicated service of the sick by medical personnel to random acts of generosity and kindness.

Love and suffering are intimately connected. The way of love is a going out of oneself to meet the needs of the other.

Love is what makes us truly human. The perfect witness to this is Jesus’ act of supreme self-sacrifice. Christ, the Son of God, chose the path of powerlessness, and this revealed the true nature of love: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)

Today as we soberly contemplate Christ crucified, we are reminded of the words of the Lord: “Unless a wheat grain falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” (Jn 12:24) Sacrificial love generates abundant new life.

Today we face the mystery of suffering. We are aware of those who currently suffer, the many who will die isolated and alone. However, we are aware that in all human suffering we are joined by the One who has known suffering and bears that suffering with us. United with Christ suffering is always be redemptive and leads us to know love in a new way.

In this Holy Week, lived this year with the backdrop of COVID-19, we lift up the world to the One who suffered for us. We pray for mercy upon humanity and, knowing that the joy of the resurrection awaits, we go forward in hope.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday 5 April 2020

Watch a recording of Palm Sunday Mass from St Mary's Cathedral here: