Paul Met Jesus in the Midst of Suffering Dougfloyd 3/2007 Paul met Jesus.

Crossing a plain in the fiery sun, he fell under the piercing reality of heavenly light. He encountered Jesus in ways that time and space cannot contain, and Paul’s word could never fully explain. Paul met Jesus. He communed with Lord of all creation in the crushing blows of affliction. Beaten, stoned, left for dead, this broken man despaired of life, assuming his body had been given over to death. Paul met Jesus in the cruel betrayal of trusted friends. The loved ones that he had invested his life into abandoned, rejected and turned their backs on this weak fool. As a humiliated captive paraded before a jeering world, Paul lived the words, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.” Paul met Jesus—not simply in third heaven visions of rapturous glory but in the embodied communion of suffering. As he fell forward into a lived death, Paul discovered another, deeper, richer communion. Beneath the pain of the cross, Paul met Jesus in the living comfort of God’s ever-consoling Spirit. There is a life discovered only in death. In the midst of affliction and comfort, Paul met Jesus in the prayers of God’s people. Even as Paul entered into a communion of love with the Savior, he discovered another communion as well: the sweet and mysterious communion with the frailty of God’s people. For the Spirit of Communion bound Paul with God and with God’s people. In his journey to far country, Paul discovered a mystery the Savior prayed for his disciples before leaving. were called out of darkness and into light. They were called to be the friends of God. The friending of God and God’s people is revealed in the weakness of suffering, of betrayal, of loneliness, of the cross. For we truly must love one another as Christ loved us. In his gracious love, the Spirit of God leads us to the place of the skull. This is not a cruel joke, but a mystery of love that frees us from an exclusive self love that can never know the sweet bonds of communion. In weakness and death, we can finally embody the reality of a love that cannot die, that cannot be quenched, that cannot fail. We discover a love the Savior calls “everlasting life.” In both agony and ecstasy, we are bound to the Lord by the Spirit, and yet not to the Lord alone but to the Lord’s people.

Each of us are graced to know Judas and Peter. The fellowship of God, the Holy Spirit, ministers to us the wounds of the cross through Judas and Peter. And yet one, in the mystery of love, will become the friend who sticks closer than a brother. The betrayer will become the lover. The mystery of this gospel is that it is not carved in stone. It is not forged in immoveable forms that cannot change. Rather, it is stamped on the weakness of the human heart. The same heart that is fickle, untrustworthy, deceitful, and selfish. And onto this weak form is stamped the beauty of a love that will survive death and burn eternal. As we stumble toward Golgotha, let us embrace those who have forsaken us. Some like Judas will run away. But others like Peter will become the rock upon which a communion that cannot be shaken will be formed. Let us know the bonds of communion in suffering and comfort, in joy and sorrow, in betrayal and love. May the Spirit of Communion fulfill the great and wondrous prayer that we all might be one even as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one.