Friday, May 10, 2013

Our High Priest

“For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18).

One of the things I’ve experienced most in my life as a Christian because of mental illness is a deep sense of isolation. Because no one ever discussed what it feels like, or means theologically, to live a life burdened with an incomprehensible sadness, it feels like I am experiencing this by myself, completely alone. Although I know that I am far from the only Christian to struggle with depression and PTSD, I nevertheless feel like there is no one to share my struggle with, who will (or can) listen to my fears, my hopes and dreams, my sometimes feelings of despair.

The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 2 (vv 5-9), shows us a Christology springing from Psalm 8, where Jesus for a time has been made lower than the angels, but now has been glorified through his suffering and death. Jesus has “taste[d] death” (2:9), fed on its bitter reality. It is not a metaphor to say that our God has died, our God has suffered. “[By] the grace of God” (2:9) he tasted it…but tasted it in separation from God, in the desperate and lonely cry to the Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Hebrews 2:10-18 outlines a theology of Christ as the High Priest who was made perfect in suffering, and who saves us because he is like us and shares fully in our human nature. The passage goes on to explain that by sharing in our nature, Jesus destroyed death by dying, and delivers those who are in bondage to death. To be our “faithful high priest in the service of God” (2:17) he was made like unto us in every way.

The Suffering God, our faithful High Priest…Jesus shares in our suffering to save us. Jesus suffers and dies on the Cross, an admittedly and thankfully foreign experience to many of us, though we too one day shall die.

Does Jesus feel fear like I do? Does Jesus feel suffocated by his life, like he can’t go on? Is Jesus overwhelmed with sadness? Whose suffering does he have a share in? I know that Jesus is tempted in the desert and doesn’t give up. I know that Jesus, in the garden before he is given up to be tried, is crushed by the weight of what is upon him, what is coming, so much so that he asks the Father to take the burden from him. I know that on the Cross, Jesus feels forsaken and alone. Jesus holds this suffering within him in the Resurrection and Ascension: our risen Lord bears the marks of crucifixion in his flesh.

I am not alone in the darkness, though I feel I am alone. God does not abandon me, but shares in my suffering. So too, those who suffer share in the suffering of God: in overcoming suffering and death without leaving it behind, Jesus invites us to have a part in his risen life that embraces the darkness as well as the light. Our lives, hidden in Christ, are deeply transformed, but the new life in Baptism does not dispel suffering and death, for the new world has not yet come. Suffering is transformed because it is assumed into God, but not because it has vanished.

I am not alone in the darkness, for Christ is with me. I can’t necessarily feel it. Most of the time I can’t feel it, and that’s part of what it means to live with depression. The aloneness weighs on me although I am not alone. But it is a comfort to know that Jesus’ priesthood is at work in the darkness, redeeming and transforming in ways not yet revealed. If by the grace of God Jesus tasted suffering and death for everyone, then the grace of God is not necessarily a comfortable, happy thing to receive. This too is grace, the darkness and despair, as it works God’s unknowable purposes with Jesus at our sides.

I will never welcome the darkness. But in the midst of the darkness, I will welcome God.

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