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Christmas 2009
Christmas 2009

The long kiss goodnight

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How do we find healing from the pain of sorrow and grief? Peter McGuigan looks at the final hours of Jesus' life for some answers.

Christ was alone. It was midnight as he lay awake in a cell in the bowels of Roman Army headquarters in Jerusalem. Fifteen hours later he would hang on a cross, dead. He knew this as he contemplated the next day. His life would end, painfully, brutally, abandoned.

These were the final hours he had known about for many years. Now, however, it was much more than an intellectual understanding, a learned knowledge. Scourging his every thought, the Scriptures became his death sentence ... "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53: 1-11). He knew within his whole being, perhaps with more certainty than ever before, that this was his destiny -- and he faced a long, dark, torturous night.

You don't have to listen too closely to hear the agony, the emotional bleeding, in Jesus' thoughts. I ask myself what terrorised Jesus most that night. Was it fear of death? Was it humiliation? Was it the anticipation of physical pain -- the nails being driven through his hands, the whipping he would receive? Was it anger, as he considered his innocence and the irony of God being murdered by a treacherous, shallow, two-faced humanity?

Traces of these emotions may have all found their way into Jesus' mind and heart in those chilling hours. But Jesus primary source of pain that night was sorrow. Sorrow ... "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," Jesus confided to Peter, James and John before being arrested in the still of night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Stop for a moment and think about this phrase Jesus used. "Sorrow -- to the point of death." This was intense, unbearable inner pain, and at its core was abandonment. "My God, my God," he cried on the cross while dying, "why have you forsaken me?"

Some say this was complete aloneness. But it was more than that. It is one thing to suddenly be alone. It is another to be abandoned.

I believe the magnitude of Jesus' sorrow was due to who he was. This was divine sorrow mixed with human sorrow. It was in the garden, and then on the cross, that Jesus most experienced the extreme juxtaposition of being both Son of God and Son of Man. Heavenly and earthly grief overtook him.

When I think of this, I'm tempted to think that sorrow and grief I have experienced in my life is insignificant. But it isn't. No-one's inner pain is insignificant. I have known abandonment in my life. It can be soul-destroying.

As I look around me, I can see this sorrow in the lives of others: in the seeming hopelessness of people who live on the street; in the fear in victims of chronic domestic violence; in the betrayal of a man or woman whose partner has been adulterous; in the grief of the family who have suffered the sudden loss of a loved one.

Sometimes I see it just by looking into their faces. Their eyes tell of sorrow and often of abandonment. Sometimes it takes talking to people. Gradually they open up, especially if you're open with them, and they share their stories of sorrow.

It helps to talk. Jesus knew that and that's why the majority of his time was spent mingling with the crowds. But as anyone who has identified sorrow as a barrier to emotional health and growth in their life can tell you, it takes more than talking to work it through.

Just where does the answer to overcoming sorrow and abandonment lie? Some say you've got to learn to live with it. That's true to a degree. Our humanity attests to this. Once abandoned, it's easy to feel abandoned again, even if you're not. It's a sensitive thing. Abandonment strikes a very deep chord, one with vibrato written all over it.

But I have found that healing from sorrow and abandonment is available and it comes through a very intimate encounter, you might say "a meeting in the garden", with the Christ. That night in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus gave humanity a beautiful and most precious gift. If ever there was a healing kiss for our sorrow, a long kiss goodnight, this was it. Despite his agony, and his pleading with God to let him forego the cross, Jesus' gift to us, his kiss of grace and mercy, was: "Not what I will, but what you will." How different to Judas' kiss of betrayal that followed almost immediately.

I have come to embrace Jesus' kiss of grace, to allow its regeneration of my life. I travelled with him to the cross and nailed my sorrow and abandonment there. I have risen with Jesus a new person, still with human frailty, but with the power of grace healing me, helping me see with divine sight again, and helping me feel with the goodness of God again.

Abundant life and the fullness of Christ have come to me again, leading me beyond sorrow and restoring the inner contentment of my soul. More than that, God's Spirit again shows me my destiny, God's plan for my life, and I feel I have no choice but to respond: "What you will."

What do we say to this great love of Christ for our souls? What do we say to this beautiful Nurturer of our spirit. Perhaps the words of Stuart Townend can best say it for us:

How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only Son, to make a wretch his treasure
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turned his face away
As wounds which mar the chosen one, bring many souls to glory.

I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart: his wounds have paid my ransom.

Copyright 1995 Kingsway's Thankyou Music
CCLI #1596342

This article is from the April issue of Pipeline, The Salvation Army's news, features and opinion magazine. Peter McGuigan is Editor of Pipeline. To subcribe, phone (02) 9266 9639 or email eastern.editorial@aue.salvationarmy.org. You can see the whole of Pipeline on the web: salvos.org.au/pipeline