Artwork: Daniel Bonnell, Resurrection 3
We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for […] the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:23)
Friends, I want to begin with some questions for personal reflection and application - questions that arise from our epistle reading from Romans 8.
What are you currently going through that is causing you to groan in frustration, and long for deliverance, fulfilment, or relief?
Or, think back to the past, to a time in your life when you thus groaned, or experienced frustration, futility, and longing in some way.
Presumably, you got through that ordeal because you’re still here. As you look back on that experience, how did it change you? Did you grow from it? I suspect you did. Did that experience, for example, make you more resilient or empathetic to the pain of others?
Friends, one of the keys to the Christian life is to learn to see our suffering, not as pointless, but as somehow a necessary part of life's journey. Or, to use the image given our epistle, to see our suffering as something akin to the pains of childbirth.
Jesus Himself uses this same image when preparing His friends and followers for His impending death and resurrection: When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21 ESV)
I don’t think Jesus means here that the mother forgets her pain in amnesia, but rather that she has a new perspective on it, that it was all worth it because of the joy of the child, the new life that she brought forth.
Or in the words of Paul, that the sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory [the new creation] revealed [as a result].
And Paul makes it clear that the individual suffering we each go through is part of the suffering endured by all of humanity – and even all of creation. It seems to me the past year-and-a-half has taught us this lesson. The global pandemic, racial tensions, historical wrongs, present injustices, environmental concerns – to be sure the pain from all of this has not been born equally, but I do think we’ve all at least been groaning together. I hope this willl somehow will bring positive change to our world.
Suffering will either move us forward or backward, it will make us better or worse, it will cause us to grow or wither, but it will not leave us in the same place.
In Christ, through the His death and resurrection from the dead, through the power His Spirit given to us, we can be assured in the hope of goodness and glory to come.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us the positive outworking of this travail in our personal character. We learn what it looks like for us to become a new creation here and now in this life.
Frustration and futility can make us prone to judge and condemn others. But we are called, rather, to a life of forgiveness and generosity. Easier said than done. Our personal character must undergo labour pains and that involves continuous repentance and much groaning, longing and seeking to be sanctified.
Friends, that is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, the Spirit who groans in us and helps us in our weakness. New creation comes through the groaning Spirit. Not one without the other. The groaning is not ultimately futile. There can be no triumph without a cross.
That is the pattern given to us by none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the words of our Psalm, And they that know [His] Name will put their trust in [Him]; / for thou, LORD, hast never failed those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)