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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Peter 3:18–22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (NRSV)

The French novelist Emmanuel Carrere says, “Desire and suffering go hand-in-hand: remove desire and you also remove suffering.” The inverse is obviously true: without suffering there is no desire.

Carrere’s insight rings in my ears as I read this very strange passage from 1 Peter, the lone reading we have from this epistle in all of Lent. It is long on suffering. Indeed, this entire letter is long on suffering, particularly unjust suffering, the kind of suffering endured by those who don’t deserve it. More than lament suffering’s existence, this thin little letter says it’s good for us.

“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.”

“Even if you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.”

“If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.”

This unconventional (and perhaps unhealthy) embrace of the unpleasant is wrapped around a rock-solid conviction that Jesus suffered unjustly and that Jesus suffered unjustly for us. And if Carrere is right that suffering and desire are bunkmates, then the sufferings of Jesus ought to inspire rapture at the desire bound up with his suffering. It ought not prod us to copy it in postures of self-hatred, to lionize the suffering of friends and strangers as somehow morally superior simply because it is suffering. Rather, our Lenten reflection on the passion of Christ seizes on the passion of it, the desire Jesus has to see women and men brought to God, made alive, and saved. Piety and devotion marvel at the lengths to which Jesus is willing to go and the suffering he is willing to endure to see his desire for us realized.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? We marvel at the passion of our brother Jesus, even as we flinch at his suffering. We are grateful down to our soul, O God, and we desire a passion like his that would see all your beloved children invited, enlivened, and saved, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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