“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:15-17).
That is, as it were, the theory. Today’s reading from Acts offers us a snapshot of the practice. Paul: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Perhaps the reading can aid our hearing of Paul’s words in Romans.
Nor is suffering confined to the first century. Late in the 20th Century renovation began on the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. Completed in 1998, its façade now includes statues of 20th-century martyrs: Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Óscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming (for more, here).
Christian tradition discourages us from seeking suffering for Christ, while warning us that it is not off the menu. Perhaps surprisingly, our Daily Office tends not to bring our sisters and brothers in lethal situations to our attention. But perhaps Paul’s words will occasionally prompt us to hear these two very familiar prayers differently:
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.”
“O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer 99)