‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful’
Some thoughts by Don Egan
The events of Holy Week are the real roots of Christianity. We follow a suffering Saviour. Much of Christendom has dumbed down the message of Jesus to some Disneyesque-positive-thinking-trite-slogan religion where the idea is, if you pray enough, God will make everything OK and we’ll all live happily ever after. That is not the message of Jesus at all.
Life involves suffering for every man woman and child born on earth.
Some suffer more than others. Some suffering is physical while others suffer emotionally.
For thirty years I was hurting badly. Emotionally traumatised by grief, I somehow got on with life but was only ever firing on two or three cylinders at most. If the Disneyesque Jesus was real, he’d have sent the Fairy Godmother and waved a magic wand and taken my pain away before now. But he didn’t.
When I read the account of Jesus in Gethsemane I am encouraged. I know I’m following a Jesus who understands entirely what it is to be bowed down with grief and sorrow.
This is the mystery of God. While some do get miracles of healing – and I’ve seen many – others continue to suffer badly. In these situations Jesus seems to enter into our suffering rather than taking it away. I don’t know why that is.
One of my frustrations over the years has been seeing many people healed and set free through a healing ministry God seems to have given me, while at the same time I couldn’t get my own wound healed.
If we go beyond the Gospel according Walt Disney, we can see the profound mystery of the wounded healer. There have been many down the ages and even today, a large number of good therapists are themselves wounded healers.
Jesus, of course, is the greatest example of the wounded healer, even quoting a proverb of the time – ‘You will surely say this proverb to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’’ Luke 4:23.
I’ve written about my own struggle in a new book Jaded Heart – to be published in a few weeks time. But as I think about Jesus, overwhelmed with sorrow shortly before his arrest, I am encouraged. There is a Saviour who still comes to me, who visits me in the dark times of my soul.
I know so many are facing horrible times just now. I know others, like myself, whose present life is not bad but the past still drags them down. I have no magic wand to take away your pain. But there is great value in meditating on Jesus in the Garden of darkness, and allowing his gentle spirit to connect with our pain. He is the Good Shepherd. He will lead us through to better days ahead.
At the end of May, I will be returning to Rwanda – a place that has known incredible suffering on a scale unimaginable. We will be taking food and bedding to the poor, feeding the hungry and speaking of the Jesus who enters into our world.
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I was chatting to a friend recently about not really fitting in with church. He pointed out that Jesus spent most of his time with the outsiders, the ones that didn’t fit in. The religious people of the day excluded the poor, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and all the others who didn’t fit with their strict criteria. If the Messiah was coming, surely he would visit the righteous, they thought. But when Jesus returned from his going out into the desert, he came to the synagogue and made the announcement to the religious people –
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me…’ (Luke 4:18)
He makes a speech about Jubilee – the blind see, debts cancelled, prisoners freed. They all say how wonderful he is.
‘And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’
He said to them, ‘You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country.”
Then Jesus tells them that, just as in the past, he isn’t coming for the religiously content, but for those who don’t fit in. He lists some of the times God did that before.
‘But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. (An outsider.)
And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. (An outsider.)
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.’ Luke 4:21-30.
Then the people got really angry with him and threw him out of town.
But, actually, if you don’t fit in, or you’re a bit of an outsider, Jesus is good news.
At his birth he wasn’t found in the palace or even the hotel. He was found outside in a stable with a few farm workers, outsiders.
In his death, he wasn’t in the city, but outside the city wall. He came for the outsider. He identified with the outsider. And most of his miracles were done out on the street, with the outsiders – the least, the last and the lost.
So many people tell me of their struggles with Sunday church – feeling like a passive observer, watching an irrelevant performance, cringing at a shallow and often trite worldview.
We seem to have wandered far away from what Jesus left us in the Early Church – a group of people who just spent time together each day, who went about their daily routines, and yet transformed the world.
History is at a crossroads. A new reformation is taking place almost imperceptibly. Recent studies show that more than two thirds of Christians in the UK have left the Sunday morning event and gone off to explore a deeper more meaningful walk with Jesus, outside the church structures.
Something is happening in society. There is a sea change going on. It is time to be prophetic.
But we need not fear. Jesus comes to us outside.
I recently invited a few people to join me on a spiritual journey called The Community of St Anthony – a scattered group of believers who are journeying in a more Celtic or monastic way with their faith. If you sometimes feel you don’t fit in, you’re welcome to join us. There aren’t any services as such, but meeting for coffee, or a walk, here and there, now and then, in twos and threes, and journeying online. This Christmas, even if we don’t fit in – especially if we feel we don’t fit in – Jesus comes to us with hope, healing and life.
I have written about this journey in my new book Excess Baggage – a new kind of monasticism, and am working on the follow up book as I write.
May you know the closeness of the Father, the guidance of the Son, and the friendship of the Holy Spirit on your journey.
In Searching for Home Don Egan visits the street where he grew up and discovers that many things have disappeared or changed. As he reflects on his childhood, he explores the human longing to belong – to have a place we call home. But what if our home no longer exists?
Using childhood memoir, Don explores thoughts on life, community, God, tragedy,
abandonment and girls, among other things.
Available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon here.
Discover the secret origins of Manchester and the whole world.
It all started on a hill near Oldham when a magic hermit named Godfrey decided to invent humans.
Things didn’t go exactly as he hoped, due to a very unpleasant boggart who lived in Blackley.
But aided by his son Jack and the mysterious Sophia, Godfrey hatches a plan to rescue the humans.
Angels pop in for a brew most days apart from when Godfrey goes on holiday to North Wales.
Don Egan has written this allegory of the Bible but all the stories are set in Manchester.
This book is available from Amazon.co.uk – here.