Yesterday, Good Friday, I received the regular daily email from Heidi Schmidt, a missionary from Queens who is serving among people in a remote area of Argentina alongside fellow missionary Monica Vega. This is what Heidi shared:
Yesterday was so full of so much…Alicia, a Guarani mother who lost her 14-year-old son (his name is Jesus, really), so much grief, so much pain, so much of what it really is to live on the margins. We arrived and there was Alicia, in the midst of a whirlwind of life still going on, wood burning fire with a huge, blackened pot cooking away, children running about, baby crying, grungy stray dogs barking, searching for scraps … and while holding her to share our condolences she let out a deep wail, a cry, from the deepest depths I have never heard before, ever, and there I knew Christ, and such a heavy cross she carried.
Walking the journey with Jesus today, with Alicia, with all those I don’t know by name who carry their burdens, their cross, as I am able, with all my heart.
How far to follow?
‘We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8.26)
What did Jesus the Christ do for us on the cross? The whole Jesus story is the drama of God reconciling humanity and the cosmos to God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God.’ The focal point of that reconciliation is the cross on Good Friday, the event of what has historically been called the atonement. But how did Jesus work such reconciliation? By being punished in our place? That’s one traditional view that is supported in scripture, and it is certainly part of the picture: God in Christ suffering for us.
An equally important mode is God in Christ suffering with us. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept. When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ As the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who was tempted in every way as we are.
The metaphor of absorption is helpful in understanding God’s work in Christ Jesus: Christ absorbing the pain, the suffering, the horror, the sin of the human condition – absorbing it all into the very being of God. As William Sparrow-Simpson wrote in his Passiontide hymn ‘Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow’:
O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
all the sufferings of time!
In her embrace of Alicia, while the bereaved mother let out that ‘deep wail, a cry, from the deepest depths I have never heard before’, Heidi was offering the embrace of Christ, sharing the pain, helping to absorb the pain. And, says Heidi, she herself knew Christ there. Christ was already there, perhaps waiting for Heidi to give incarnate expression to the pain-sharing that Christ was longing to make known to Alicia.
This sharing is the heart of mission. ‘Solidarity’ is a fancier word for it, which is rightly popular in mission discussions, but ‘sharing’ says it more simply and plainly.
I’ve known Heidi and Monica for the 15 years since my wife Jane and I were with them when they were managing a children’s home in South Africa. They then served in Brazil, and now they serve in Argentina, which happens to be the home country of Monica. I don’t know what their exact ‘assignment’ is, but that’s immaterial. At a deeper level I know what they are doing because it is what they have been doing throughout their now long missionary ministry: being with people, sharing the life of people, sharing the pain and suffering, sharing the joys and hopes, and embodying the sharing of Christ Jesus with the people they serve.
That is a Good Friday mission.
That is an Easter mission.
That is mission.