CW: It’s an Easter post. It inevitably talks about religion, suffering and death.
I’ve written before about my faith, but today I want to talk about why Easter specifically matters to me so much as a chronically ill person.
(Before I jump into it, a quick note on the cover photo for today, which is a person in a giant rabbit costume staring out over a shadowed landscape under a cloudy sky. I have absolutely no idea what possessed someone to take this photo. It is not quite the crosses-on-the-hill image I was looking for, but it is so strange I couldn’t help but use it. I love it. I have so many questions.)
To any of my readers who have somehow escaped hearing what Easter is in the Christian calendar, it is the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later. In Christian canon, Jesus is the sinless son of God in human form, with all human frailties and weaknesses, who experienced the full range of human emotion and physical pain. He began his ministry and around 30, and was eventually put on trial and killed after stirring up a whole lot of trouble amongst conservative Jewish elders, mostly by calling them hypocrites who cared more about the appearance of holiness than actual connection with God, and doing forbidden things like hanging out with prostitutes and healing people on the Sabbath. After being beaten, humiliated, whipped, crucified and stabbed, he died, was buried in a tomb with a big old rock in front of it, went to hell for a few days, then rose again and did some more preaching before ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of God.
Here are some of the things from the Easter story that stick with me more than ever as a permanently sick person:
1) Jesus knows what I am going through
As noted above, the idea that Jesus became fully human means that he experienced hope, despair, exhaustion, frustration and disappointment just as I do. He also experienced fear, and a desire to not have to go through with more pain and suffering. In the garden at Gethsemane, when he was praying prior to his arrest, he begged the Lord to “take this cup away from me.” I know exactly what it is like to ask that question. I don’t know what is coming in my future as clearly as Jesus did, but I know that there is likely to be more bad stuff. Jesus has felt that and asked for it to be taken from him. There’s no shame in me doing it.
He also experienced unimaginable agony. Endometriosis has sometimes made me feel like there is a monster tearing my uterus apart from the inside, but I’ve never been whipped, starved (except for colonoscopies, but that is different), refused any liquid but vinegar, and hung on a cross for hours, which historians tell us is a truly horrific way to die. Jesus knew pain. He knew how it feels like it will never end, like you can’t go on, like there is nothing but that pain. He understands intimately how I feel when my pain is bad.
2) Jesus didn’t get better either
Ok, I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Sure, Jesus may not have had a chronic illness, but from the moment his trial began and the pain started, there was no respite. He did not get a break from pain and privation. His pain ended only with his death (and then he went to hell, so he probably got a whole new kind of pain there).
Now, that may sound really bleak, but it is a lot less frustrating and a lot more realistic to me than people saying, “This too will pass.” The whole point of chronic pain is that it doesn’t pass. Sometimes, we just endure it until we die. However, when it doesn’t we sometimes feel as if we are doing something wrong, or worse, get treated as if we are. I’ve written before about how Christians will sometimes treat other Christians as if their ongoing illness is somehow evidence of sin. But there was no relief for Jesus, the man who never sinned, so I’m not doing something wrong by failing to be healed.
In this lifetime, it didn’t pass for Jesus, and it may not pass for me. But, that’s ok, because…
3) It does get better after that
This is probably where I’m losing the non-religious folks, because I can understand how anything “after death” can sound a bit wacky to people who believe you die and that’s it. The big promise of Easter, though, is that we don’t die and that’s it. We die and are reborn in heaven. We don’t suffer any more. We experience such incredible joy that it is as if we have never suffered. I used this CS Lewis quote in my last article, but I’m going to use it again here because it sums it up so well:
That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ..And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.
Because of Jesus, my place in heaven is guaranteed and I will one day have healing that will make my pain-free days on earth look like poo. I will be healthy again. I will know peace and energy and absolute, perfect love.
4) I’m worthy as I am
Jesus wasn’t crucified alone. Two actual criminals – thieves – were hung on either side of him. One of them turned to Jesus and said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Now, I’m no angel, but I don’t steal things. I’ve never been convicted of a crime. I’m not an adulterer. Jesus forgave people who were. He will and constantly does forgive me.
I’m being a little long-winded about this, but bear with me. In this world, we have to do a lot of things to be accepted – to be viewed as worthy. The chronically ill are often told that they aren’t good enough, or aren’t trying hard enough. Spiritually, though, none of us are – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, after all – but Jesus doesn’t care. He loves me and thinks I am just as worthy as any more able-bodied person. His forgiveness grants me a place in heaven regardless of whether I meet society’s standards of what constitutes worthy or not.
Do any of my Christian readers have a different take on the Easter story, or get a different kind of comfort from it? For all my readers – join me in being so damn grateful for a four-day weekend, plus ANZAC Day later this week! I loved stacked public holidays.