Several years ago, I lived in a part of California that was home to several of the bigger Evangelical churches, though I myself belonged to a liturgical congregation. Because of this, I often wore a crucifix when I was out and about in my clerical collar. The collar itself got me a few strange looks, but most often, I would field comments from evangelicals who wanted to point out that “You know Jesus rose from the dead, right? Why do you still have him on the cross?” To which I would always answer, “Of course I know he rose from the dead, but he had to die first.”
The comments always seemed to come from people who were involved in what you could call victorious life churches, or maybe even prosperity churches. For many of them, their theology consisted of only counting blessings; suffering was not an option, as it indicated that you were most likely being “corrected” for some sin in your life.
But we know that Christ was crucified. We know that he suffered horrifically. In fact, one of the blessings we receive is to know that Christ understands our own suffering in life because he experienced great suffering too. We may experience blessings in this life, but sometimes, we are only able to understand our blessings through our experiences of suffering.
Christ did die, and through his death we received eternal life. We were healed, in a sense, from our own selfish nature. The knowledge of that death should bring with it such great joy that we, like the man healed from leprosy in the Gospel reading, refuse to keep silent about the blessing that we have received. We also have to remember, that the man with leprosy was most certainly suffering from the pain of that disease up until Christ healed him.
All of this comes down to a question of what you wish to focus on. There are some who focus so much on Christ’s suffering, that they forget the blessings that come with his death and resurrection. And then there are those, as mentioned, that so want to focus on the resurrection, and the blessings that come with it, that they forget that we also experience great suffering in this life. God never said that we would not experience suffering. What he said was, “I will be with you.”
My current church home is Christ the King (and oddly enough, the church I pastored at previously was called Christ the Victor), and at the front of the sanctuary, we have a beautiful carved wood cross with the risen Christ on it. To me, this speaks of both his suffering, and his resurrection simultaneously. The cross reminds us that he did, in fact, suffer and die, and the risen Christ reminds us that he he rose from the dead and is alive.
We may try to make our lives all about blessings, but then we run the risk of minimizing suffering, to the extent that we blame others for the bad that is in their lives. We may try to focus on Jesus’ suffering, but then we run the risk of making ourselves out to be martyrs, and blaming others for all the bad that is in our lives.
Life is never all blessings, and life is never all suffering. Life is a joyous roller coaster of ups and downs, to be shared with the one who died and rose for us; and who told us that he would always be with us (cf. Matthew 28:20)