Three weeks ago, I was preparing to lead a church workshop on the power of mental framing in determining how we respond to suffering. Borrowing a Buddhist concept, I framed it as becoming aware of the inextricable links between dukkha (suffering) and sukkah (joy). I didn’t know how I would illustrate this reconciliation of spirit, then a forty-foot tree fell towards our house from thirty feet away.
Over thirty years ago Loretta and I bought this house surrounded by tall trees. For three decades they have grown taller. About thirty feet from our house is a marshy area that had become super saturated in the early spring thaw. Then a particularly heavy and wet snow was more than that old tree could bear. It was torn out by its roots and toppled directly towards the bed in which I was sleeping.
The suffering is a big tree fell on our house and startled me awake. The joy is it crashed off our roof and fell just outside my bedroom. The suffering is that it smashed our pool fence in two places and we lost our internet connection. The joy is that it did not harm any of us. The suffering is that it will cost over a thousand dollars to repair the damage it caused. The joy is we can afford it.
This is how I am approaching Easter this year. Jesus came so we may have life and live it more abundantly. On the night he was betrayed, he had a last supper with his closest followers before he was arrested while praying in a garden, joy and suffering. He was condemned to death, whipped and flagellated, tortured, watched his mother in emotional distress, this is all suffering. But Simon the Cyrene stepped in to carry his cross, Veronica wiped the sweat from his brow, and Jesus consoled the daughters of Jerusalem, all sources of joy. Jesus was stripped of his garments, ridiculed, and nailed to the cross through both his hands and his feet, suffering. As he was dying his beloved disciple promised to look after Jesus’ mother and his final words were to God saying, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”, joy.
So this Maunday Thursday I will cherish communion and a gracious meal with my godly friends. On Good Friday I will mourn Jesus’ death on the cross in a Tenebrae service of bewilderment and despair. Then on Easter morning, mindful of how inextricably interlinked suffering and joy always is, we will celebrate both Jesus’ death and his resurrection. For there is no possibility of resurrection without death, but love and joy is ultimately stronger than suffering and pain, so life is abundant. Happy Easter!