“We feel pain as an outrage; Jesus did too, which is why he performed miracles of healing. In Gethsemane, he did not pray, “Thank you for this opportunity to suffer,” but rather pled desperately for an escape. And yet he was willing to undergo suffering in service of a higher goal. In the end he left the hard questions (“if there be any other way . . .”) to the will of the Father, and trusted that God could use even the outrage of his death for good.”
“Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible says. It is a lesson about pain that we all can agree on. Some of us will not see pain as a gift; some will always accuse God of being unfair for allowing it. But, the fact is, pain and suffering are here among us, and we need to respond in some way. The response Jesus gave was to bear the burdens of those he touched. To live in the world as his body, his emotional incarnation, we must follow his example. The image of the body accurately portrays how God is working in the world. Sometimes he does enter in, occasionally by performing miracles, and often by giving supernatural strength to those in need. But mainly he relies on us, his agents, to do his work in the world.We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it.We announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers.”
We have gathered in my home today still trying to make sense of what happened in Harris County, Texas , still trying to process the unprocessable. We come together in this place, as a Christian community, partly because we know of no better place to bring our questions and our grief and partly because we don’t know where else to turn. As the apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”
In considering how to begin today, I found myself following two different threads. The first thread is what I would like to say, the words I wish I could say. The second thread is the truth.
I wish I could say that the pain you feel will disappear, vanish, never to return. I’m sure you’ve heard comments like these from parents and others: “Things will get better.” “You’ll get past this.” “This too shall pass.” Those who offer such comfort mean well, and it’s true that what you feel now you will not always feel. Yet it’s also true that what happened on July 21, 2015, will stay with you forever. You are a different person because of that day, because of one troubled young man’s actions.
I remember one year when three of my friends died. In my thirties then, I had little experience with death. In the midst of my grief, I came across these lines from George Herbert that gave me solace: “Grief melts away / Like snow in May / As if there were no such cold thing.” I clung to that hope even as grief smothered me like an avalanche. Indeed, the grief did melt away, but like snow it also came back, in fierce and unexpected ways, triggered by a sound, a smell, some fragment of memory of my friends.
So I cannot say what I want to say, that this too shall pass. Instead, I point to the pain you feel, and will continue to feel, as a sign of life and love. I’m feeling the same pain as the whole community of mourners across America today. because of our broken hearts from all the death and devastation of blacks in the most power nation in the world. For the first few hours of intercession in behalf of our country and communities that suffer from this atrocity I refuse to not let the crucible of life’s pain to not be felt because I wanted the host of gathers to see my pain so I could hear their response to it. My wife May r kept probing, moving my limbs, asking, “Does this hurt? Do you feel that?” The correct answer, the answer both she and I desperately wanted, was, “Yes. It hurts. I can feel it.” Each sensation gave proof that my limbs had not been severed. Pain offered proof of life, of connection—a sign that my body remained whole.
Love and Pain
In grief, love and pain converge. I don’t want to render or pass judgement on the arresting officers or the Texas police, but I don’t see any signs of them feeling any grief behind Sandra Bland’s death the video shows they felt no love for her. You feel grief because you did have a connection. We as human beings of color are very connected Some of you had closer ties to the victims of police brutality, but all of you belong to a body to which they too belonged. When that body suffers, you suffer. Remember that as you cope with the pain. Don’t try to numb it. Instead, acknowledge it as a perception of life and of love.
Sandra Bland’s death has officially been ruled a suicide, according to an autopsy conducted by officials in Harris County, Texas. Warren Diepraam, a prosecutor for Waller County, Texas, where Bland was arrested and later died in police custody, laid out how this cause of death was determined:
“There were no bite marks or other injuries on her face, on her lips, on her tongue, which would be consistent with a violent struggle,” he said.
If there had been a violent struggle, the prosecutor said, examiners would most likely not expect to see a uniform and consistent mark around Bland’s neck — which is what they, in fact, observed. They also did not observe damage to her trachea and esophagus, which they might expect to see if there had been a violent struggle, he said.
Diepraam also mentioned cuts on her wrists and back, which could be consistent with how she was handled during her arrest, or that she tried to harm herself. The prosecutor also mentioned that Bland had marijuana in her system, which could’ve been a factor in her suicide.
Medical students will tell you that in a deep wound, two kinds of tissue must heal: the connective tissue beneath the surface and the outer, protective layer of skin. If the protective tissue heals too quickly, the connective tissue will not heal properly, leading to complications later on. The reason my home and other ministries around the world offer counseling and hold services like this one we are holding is to help the deep, connective tissue heal. Only later will the protective layer of tissue grow back in the form of a scar.
We gather here as Christians, and as such we aspire to follow a man who came from God 2,000 years ago. Read through the Gospels, and you’ll find only one scene in which someone addresses Jesus directly as God: “My Lord and my God!” Do you know who said that? It was doubting Thomas, the disciple stuck in grief, the last holdout against believing the incredible news of the Resurrection.
In a tender scene, Jesus appeared to Thomas in his newly transformed body, obliterating Thomas’s doubts. What prompted that outburst of belief, however—”My Lord and my God!”—was the presence of Jesus’ scars. “Feel my hands,” Jesus told him. “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of Almighty God, the Lord of the universe, stooping to take on our pain.
God doesn’t exempt even himself from pain. God joined us and shared our human condition, including its great grief. Thomas recognized in that pattern the most foundational truth of the universe: that God is love. To love means to hurt, to grieve. Pain is a mark of life.
The Jews, schooled in the Old Testament, had a saying: “Where Messiah is, there is no misery.” After Jesus, you could change that saying to: “Where misery is, there is the Messiah.” “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said, “and those who hunger and thirst, and those who mourn, and those who are persecuted.” Jesus voluntarily embraced every one of these hurts.
So where is God when it hurts? We know where God is because he came to earth and showed us his face. You need only follow Jesus around and note how he responded to the tragedies of his day: with compassion—which simply means “to suffer with”—and with comfort and healing.