Recently a Presbytera (that’s what we call the wife of the priest) passed away after a heroic struggle with breast cancer. This woman was a young woman with a husband and 17-year-old daughter who struggled with their mother for the years she battled this illness. I knew this family because I had attended seminary with the husband who became a priest, and a good priest at that! As I learned of the news, I can’t say it surprised me, but I can say I grieved and wept over this loss. I can say my mind went back to memories of her daughter playing and actually caring for my small daughter at priests and family dinner, and the joy on my daughter’s face at the attention this gracious young lady showered on her.
And I can say that I was at a loss as to what to say and do!
And that’s a good thing. We should be at a loss for words at times like this because we should practice silence and empathy. Words are the nervous and fearful reaction we have to our own pain all too often. But what helped me most was remembering all the ways others had comforted me in the past through their kindness.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 1:1-7:
PAUL, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and Timothy our brother.
To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound for us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you all also share in our comfort.
This is another letter St. Paul wrote to his parish community in Corinth. It is a response to the good changes the community had made after Paul had to exercise his Apostolic authority to correct some serious problems in the Church there. One of the main problems was a member of the parish that was in a very immoral relationship. In the first letter, Paul had said that this man must be excommunicated so that he would learn not to blaspheme. Notice, this isn’t punishment but medicine to heal! Well, the Church at Corinth obeyed, but now the man has repented and they still won’t let him back to communion, so Paul has to write them and tell they “Hey, he’s repented. Restore communion! The spiritual discipline worked!”
No wonder Paul begins this letter to the Corinthians with the theme of comfort! He calls God “the Father of mercies and all comfort.” He begins to correct the zeal of these Corinthians by appealing to WHO God is rather than browbeating them and telling them they’ve been bad. And that’s how we should learn to correct and comfort, by spending most of our time getting to know God Himself. That will rub off on you IF you spend enough time with Him!
The Paul says the sufferings of Jesus was for our comfort. And he insists that his own sufferings are for the comfort of others. All of this flows from the eternal perspective about everything, even suffering. Ultimately, if we have the courage to see this, every moment of our lives, both good and bad and everything in between, possesses the potential to teach us eternal truths which comfort us with an everlasting comfort! Talk about comforting words! Wow!
Paul ends his passage today with profound words that inescapably lead to the reality that we are MADE for mutual suffering and comfort. We are made for Communion together. We are made to experience the Faith “once for all delivered to the saints” as a community. As a wise man once said “One Christian is No Christian.” We are meant to do this life together, through thick and thin!
Today, are you suffering? Well, if you are a Christian, you are not suffering alone. We all suffer with you and share your suffering so that your suffering isn’t too heavy for you to bear! And, in doing this, we show the whole world the way to enter into the joys of communion, to be Orthodox on Purpose!