“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21
We begin at the end. The ashes burned last week by our youth at church from palm leaves carried by children eleven months earlier as we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem will rest on our foreheads today—a mark of his suffering and ours. We remember today that the promise of resurrection rests on suffering. Jesus probably knew as much when he entered those gates into the city of power, imagined and real, for both the Jewish faith and the Roman crown. Roman peace exacted a heavy toll, and Jesus was fully aware of its price.
Think about the way we would understand the message in First Peter if we thought of Jesus’ life as suffering. The death on the cross, whatever it means about salvation, occurred only after the life lived in solidarity with those who suffered. The author of Peter appears to reference that idea when identifying our call to suffer. Suffering is part of the human condition but not all of us suffer the same way. I always enter this territory with some trepidation because we should never assume suffering is a sign of God’s presence. Jesus appeared to recognize that fact and lived accordingly. When he sided with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the tax collector, the women of poor decisions, the outcasts, Jesus oriented his sense of God’s reign toward them. When he suggested that God resides with them and attacked the very structures that created their existence, Jesus called attention to their suffering and its affect on their relationship with others and God.Did it make their lives better? We will never know. We are called to that life, and if it cost us ours, we have only followed the path Jesus set. This call is not to martyrdom but to faithfulness to speak truth to injustice and healing to pain.
The ashes remind us that we are once again forced to remember that the baby Jesus grew up and spoke about justice not as retribution but reconciliation. He threatened the very structures that saw might and control as power. The resurrection suggests that God places power in other places.