Compassion in Times of Trial
Be Compassionate just as your father is compassionate. Luke 6:36
In his opening sermon for Lent, Bill commented that compassion has often been defined by the Celtic mystics as where the divine and the human touch – the thin places. In times of trial, thin places have the capability to transform a trial into a time of spiritual growth and renewal. A thin place can touch and heal.
What is the link – right in the middle – between human touch and the divine? This Holy Week, I believe the answer is Jesus himself. We have read through the gospel readings of the compassion of Christ for all of mankind and we have witnessed him healing, serving, teaching, comforting, and loving. We have been an eye witness to Jesus’ compassion.
As it is used in the Bible, compassion means to be moved inwardly, to yearn with tender mercy, affection, pity and empathy. It is sharing the feelings of others and possessing a desire to help them in their time of need. And we watch Jesus finalize his week with his deepest feelings saying things like “Not my will but thy will,” and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Even at the point of Jesus going to his own death, he is thinking of others. He is wanting to please his Father, ignoring his own persecution. And as his death nears he asks God to forgive his murderers. His time of trial becomes this “thin place” between Christ and his Father.
Compassion always comes to us at this thin place – possibly quite often missed by the rapid speed at which we live today. When we are hurting, it is in the unpretentious, humble presence of others where we find solace and comfort. We become part of the uncertainty together, we give up control. We enter the darkness together. And when we do, new strength is born; hope is revived; we discover new directions. God-with-us has committed to live in solidarity with us – our helper, defender, shepherd, our love.
But we must slow down to experience it, and even then, we wonder at the mystery of this divine moment in our lives. Sometimes it comes in the hours before dawn when the world is quiet.
As I cared for my dying daughter, I dreamed of someone instructing me by saying, “Marcia, you can do this.” I would respond, “I don’t think I can do this.” But the voice kept repeating, “You must and you can.” The voice stopped, but I was left with voices singing over and over, “Jesus doeth all things well.” I woke to the music going round in my head and went directly to my hymnal and looked up the phrase. It is from the song entitled All The Way My Savior Leads Me written in 1875 by Frances J. Crosby. We sing it in our church today.
I told my sister about the dream with the music and she quietly remarked, “That was our dad’s favorite hymn.”
All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
The words stunned me.
Could the compassion of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, touch my humanness that night in a way that gave me courage, strength, and a fresh understanding of His compassion? When others were certainly the hands and feet of Jesus during my time of trial, I still savor that dream as a “thin place” of connection and compassion with Jesus at a time when I needed it most. He does “doeth all things well.”
Consider the notion that perhaps the purpose of a thin place is to train us to make the other places in our lives thinner. Moreover, when we realize that the Spirit of God dwells within us, we will come to believe that we are called to be thin places for others, as God makes his presence known through us. His compassion becomes our compassion. Our compassion becomes someone else’s compassion. And our lives are made richer for it.
In his wonderful Lenten devotional Show Me The Way, Henri Nouwen writes, “As long as we live on this earth, our lives as Christians must be marked by compassion. But we must realize that the compassionate life is not our final goal. In fact, we can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself. We know that he who emptied and humbled himself has been raised high and has been given a name above all other names, and we know that he left us to prepare a place for us where suffering will be overcome and compassion no longer necessary. There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation. This is the vision presented in Revelation 21:1-4.
‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now and there was no longer any sea I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, “You see this city? Here God lives among men, He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.’
This is the vision that guides us. This vision makes us share one another’s burdens, carry our crosses together, and unite for a better world. This vision takes the despair out of death and the morbidity out of suffering, and opens new horizons. This vision is indeed of a future world. But it is no utopia. The future has already begun and is revealed each time strangers are welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick and prisoners are visited, and oppression is overcome. “
As we walk this final week with you, show us your compassion at a new level of understanding. Fill us by your power with a longing to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, care for my neighbor, and love my family.
Help me to use your time of trial as an example for when my own time of trial comes. Teach me to say with open hands, “Not my will, but thine.” Teach me to sing with resurrection confidence, “Jesus doeth all things well.”
March 25, 2018