Sharing the suffering on the way to resurrection

Some months ago, the radio show This American Life profiled Meron Estefanos, a journalist who gets drawn into a web of Eritrean hostages in the Sinai peninsula. Beginning with one call, Estefanos eventually ends up devoting a huge portion of her days to talking to hostages who have been captured by people-smugglers and are given mobile phones to call their families and ask them to pay ransom. Along the way, these hostages are left in horrific conditions.

When I heard the program, it was for me an example of Christlike action in the world. One lesson of the Incarnation is that Jesus comes to share our lives with—Emmanuel means “God with us” after all. In the crucifixion, Jesus shares the ultimate moment of suffering and agony—death—with humans. When people are suffering, we can be confident that God in Christ is in their midst because God in Christ has experienced the worst the world has to offer. When Estefanos calls these hostages, she is, in a sense, incarnating herself among them and sharing in their crucifixion.

Christians, therefore, are people who are called to share in the suffering that is present in this world. In the last few weeks, I have been acutely aware of the suffering in South Sudan in part because I’ve been calling various friends there to ask how they are. I want to emphasize that my few phone calls and blog posts are not even close to the total devotion shown by someone like Estefanos, not to mention Christ. But I’ve continued to call and to post out of the conviction that it is important both that we have some clear idea of what is going on in South Sudan—in all its difficulty—and also that people in South Sudan know that we are aware of their challenges. When St. Paul writes, “If one member [of the body] suffers, all suffer together with it,” (I Cor. 12:26), he is not speaking metaphorically. He really means it.

(I am also acutely aware of my own shortcomings in this regard. I know next-to-nothing about the suffering in Syria, for instance, or in the Central African Republic. But I hope that the full body of Christ around the world may hold the full weight of suffering in the world and that I have one small part to play in that.)

I have been reflecting on all this because I am aware that my phone calls will be on hiatus for the next little while. I have a long-planned trip coming up, which will occupy all my time and render the relatively inexpensive way I’ve worked out to call South Sudan inoperable. Does that mean I can just flip off this sharing of suffering? I think not. There are ways in prayer and action and advocacy to continue to share the suffering of our sisters and brothers.

We should finally note that sharing suffering is not the only thing Jesus did. His crucifixion ended in his resurrection. Following Christ, Christians are truly incarnate in the world, sharing the suffering of those who suffer, but all so that we may push and poke and prod and work towards the resurrected life to which Christ is calling us. Glory awaits—in this Christians can trust, even and especially when it seems almost entirely obscured.

In coming days, the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan will be releasing a proposal for relief, action, and advocacy in response to the violence. I encourage you to keep an eye out for out asa we listen to our sisters and brothers and move towards resurrection.

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