NOTHSTINE: Only Easter can make sense of suffering

Relatives of victims react to coffins arriving to the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta

The number of Christians continues to grow despite violent massacres against those that profess the faith. This is particularly true in parts of the Middle East and Africa. There are currently about 2.2 billion Christians worldwide, but that number could surpass 3 billion in a little over 30 years. Last week on Palm Sunday, the long-suffering Coptic Christians in Egypt experienced another heartbreaking attack that killed 40.Their response is to push forward and celebrate Easter as a Church body that so frequently testifies to Christ with their blood. Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church pointed out that many families gather in their homes to pray before attending worship because they wonder if it will be their last time on earth.But regardless of geographical location, suffering and evil affects all of humanity. The Greeks too waxed poetic about the meaning of suffering. Who can forget the words of Agamemnon of Aeschylus: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”Even in the medically and technologically advanced Western world, suffering is everywhere. In some communities and areas of this country, emptiness, addiction, and pain is worse than it’s ever been. Ultimately, the end of secular suffering is despair. We are surrounded by death in a world where this life is the only thing we know.In many respects, Christ was not sent to end suffering but to truly teach us about how to suffer. That God is willing to suffer for us and with us is at the heart of Christianity. The Apostle Paul shatters our modern thinking when he declared that he longed to participate in the suffering of Christ. For what end?For Christians, Easter is the great reversal. It makes suffering redemptive and gives meaning to the crosses in our life. “A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace, has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat,” declared Athanasius, the ancient bishop of Alexandria.Easter is the Sunday that means the New Adam and, through Christ, the uplifting of humanity. One of the most beautiful passages of Scripture is found in John 11 with the raising up of Lazarus. It’s the precursor for all that Christ can and will accomplish for those that are united to Him. The passage unveils the suffering of Mary and Martha who are heartbroken over the loss of their brother. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said to Jesus. Christ then says and shows Mary and Martha what it means to be the “resurrection and the life” by calling their brother Lazarus out of his tomb after he had been dead for four days.When the Church universal gathers for Easter, it testifies that there is not only an end to suffering but we are delivered from it. The great Reformer Martin Luther declared, “If you hear the Law, it will say in the language of the ancient chant: ‘In the midst of life, we are in death.’ But the Gospel and faith invert this, and sing, ‘In the midst of death, we are in life.'”And while there are no easy explanations for what plagues and debilitates us, we know that we have a God that was willing to partake in tremendous suffering on our behalf. For those who are suffering Easter truly is the Good News. It shows us a glorious future and the end of history. That is why the Apostle Paul can say it is better to be raised up with the Lord than here on earth. This is why the Egyptian Copts and the persecuted Church across the globe will gather on Easter to declare that what has been buried is already being brought to life.
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.