Feature / General CBF / Holy Week 2023

Rejoice in suffering

By Kelly Rhodes Adams

Two days before Palm Sunday in rural Northeastern North Carolina, I passed a church sign that said, “Jesus is Risen! Let us celebrate the resurrected Christ.” Holy week hadn’t even begun yet.  Where does our compulsion to skip the suffering come from? As a society we have become detrimentally averse to any feelings of discomfort – pain, grief, despair. Our culture of “toxic positivity” plays a major role in wanting everyone to feel good all the time. Often however, suffering can transform us in ways that putting a happy spin on things cannot.

In three of the gospels, we read that some of Jesus’ followers and friends were present at his crucifixion. In particular, the names of women are mentioned having followed him and ministered to him as he carried his cross and was publicly executed. They stayed through Jesus’ agony. They stayed and watched as their innocent friend suffered – the friend they thought would be their deliverance from the empire. Their hope was crucified, but they stayed and chose to bear witness. 

We have the joy of knowing what happens next. But the friends of Jesus who watched his violent death did not. From the parade into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday until he drew his last breath, they experienced the whole realm of emotions in real time. It is not something we’ve taught ourselves to do yet – to feel the whole story, to sit in the pain and grief of Good Friday or without prematurely trying to Easter it.

There are those who don’t have a choice of skipping over those feelings because, like Jesus and his friends at Golgotha, they are experiencing them in real time. They have been faced with the harsh realities of a broken world, and their suffering simply cannot be ignored. We have seen it in the U.S. in the last two weeks. School shootings have once again left us in despair. Parents, students and educators are gripped with grief and fear.  

Tornadoes have ravaged parts of our nation leaving loss of life and irreparable damage in their wake – a grief that cannot be avoided by victims of natural disaster. We know there is suffering on a global scale, too. Refugees at the border are subjected to inhumane conditions, Ukrainians continue to suffer in a war-torn land, women in Iran are still being persecuted each day and the list goes on. 

Individually we are all suffering. It is painful to sit with suffering even when we are not experiencing the fullness of it. But we must. We must sit with these who suffer and bear witness to their pain; we must ensure that they do not suffer alone. We do this because Jesus experienced solidarity with our human suffering on the cross. If we are to love others as Jesus loved, it means we will have to encounter the suffering of others and face emotions that we would rather ignore.  

This Holy Week, try to keep your alleluias buried, as difficult as it may be. Don’t leave Jesus’ side, even when it seems too hard to stay. If we can stay with Jesus through Good Friday, we can surely stay with each other through seasons of suffering and grief. Perhaps we can begin to acknowledge that these seasons are often prolonged and not every Easter comes in three days’ time. But thanks be to God for the friends who stay and bear witness until it does.

Kelly Rhodes Adams serves as the Director of Clergy Support Ecosystem at CBF.

One thought on “Rejoice in suffering

  1. Beautiful! Thank you for these words!

    Yes, staying in the “dark” throughout Holy Week makes the light of Easter resurrection all the more joyful and meaningful. This has been a marvelous Lenten season.


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