About ten years ago, I started writing reflections about my journey with God and focused my attention on the concepts of sacrifice and surrender. This was based on an understanding of joining together with Christ in His suffering. Peter addresses this issue when he explains, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so you that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13 New Living Translation”). I believe that we enter into Christ’s suffering when we understand the gravity of what He did for each of us on the Cross. However, I also believe that some of us stop there as if our relationship with God is just based on sacrifice and suffering of Christ for our individual benefit. This sadly, bleeds into the way that we view what Christ did on the Cross for each of us, and it negatively impacts our relationships with others.
Recently, I started reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While studying Flannery O’Connor’s work and meditations, I became interested in the writing of Catholic writers, and Rohr was highly recommended by a new friend. Although Protestant by conviction for several reasons, I believe that the Church would benefit from learning from one another rather than continuing to argue about our differences. This would help to heal the Church and to help the secular world to see the church universal, or Catholic.
There have been several challenging concepts in Rohr’s book, but over the last few days I have meditated on chapters regarding Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and our need for one another. In essence, Rohr suggests that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was not about a need for God to be paid “in order to love and forgive God’s own creation for its failures” (Rohr 144). Instead, Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross was an invitation for humanity to enter into Christ’s suffering so that we could enter into suffering with others.
In a crime and punishment society, this concept of God’s invitation for each of us to demonstrate love through joining in His suffering doesn’t make any sense. If we commit a crime, there is a consequence. If we break the rules, we are punished. The idea of entering into someone’s suffering with them may cause us to ask, Why should I join in someone’s suffering when their personal choices caused their suffering? Why should I suffer when I have done everything “right”? Thankfully, Jesus did not ask these same questions because if He had, we would not have any hope for salvation! Instead of selfishly looking at his blameless life in contrast to our wretched lives, the only perfect human to ever walk the earth, prayed, “‘My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done'” (Matthew 26:42 NLT).
If we are able to accept the truth that Christ suffered so that we would suffer with others, I believe that this would change the way that we love others. Rohr explains that as we meditate on the crucified Christ, we understand that He “became the victim so we could stop victimizing others or playing the victim ourselves” (Rohr 155). Christ’s sacrifice was not about crime and punishment but about perfect love. This means that when we suffer with others, it is not because of a need for punishment but because we desire to walk alongside of them in their darkest times just as Christ walks alongside each of us in our darkest times.
Suffering is not punitive. Surrender is not giving up. Sacrifice is not denying. Fully embracing Christ’s suffering means that we fully embrace others. Fully accepting Christ’s surrender of His will means that we fully accept others. Fully understanding Christ’s once for all sacrifice means that we fully understand others.
All of this is grounded in love. Imitating Christ is about love. Following His leading is about love. Living as He lived is about love. All of our suffering, our surrender, our sacrifice is for, and through, and because of love.
Rohr, Richard. Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe. Convergent, 2021.