We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Lent 2, Feb. 25, 2024 – Suffering

Sermon, Second Sunday in Lent, Year B
Mark 8:31-38

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma with their family in Poland

Although we don’t generally like to hear about or to think about suffering, Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel that following him as a disciple will include suffering. 

As I’ve thought about suffering this week, it’s been useful to consider three broad categories of suffering. 

The first category is physical suffering due to natural causes.   

Because we live in bodies that will eventually return to dust, we will suffer physically in some form or fashion as we age. Our bodies aren’t meant to last forever. We are susceptible to diseases that bring suffering and even death. 

Sin causes the second category of suffering. 

This suffering can occur as the consequence of our own sin—making wrong choices that bring physical suffering, mental anguish and spiritual affliction.    But this category also includes the suffering of innocent people due to the sins of others.    The families of children gunned down in schools by mass shooters suffer because of the shooters’ actions.  People who live in war-torn areas and become homeless and hungry suffer because of the sins of leaders who can think of nothing but gaining more and more power.  So much suffering on this earth falls into this category—suffering caused by sin. 

The third category of suffering is redemptive suffering. 

God does not ask us to suffer needlessly.    But God does hope that we will accept redemptive suffering if our suffering can contribute to the growth of goodness and justice in the world around us, and if our suffering and self-denial could possibly lead to the redemption and healing of even one other person by letting  God’s grace work through us.

Unlike the first two kinds of suffering I’ve just described, which are often beyond our control, we choose redemptive suffering.  Jesus didn’t want to suffer and die any more than we do, but he accepted suffering because he knew that through his suffering, he would open a new way for the lost and broken world to travel to forgiveness, healing and redemption. In his suffering due to the sins of others, Jesus offered forgiveness. As he was being nailed to the cross, he  said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”  Jesus knew that beyond the cross and death was the new life of resurrection, now available to creation forever and universally.    Jesus did not suffer needlessly.  He chose to suffer redemptively.   

Our temptation is to avoid redemptive suffering because it seems so demanding.  We fear the consequences of choosing this suffering, letting the fear in our hearts win out over love.    

We can relate to Peter’s immediate reaction to Jesus when Jesus says that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and then rise again.  Peter rebukes Jesus because he can’t bear the thought of his friend suffering or being killed.  And Peter has no clue what being raised again might mean, so he ignores what Jesus says about his resurrection.  Peter doesn’t yet know the end of the story. 

But we do know the end of the story, that beyond the suffering we experience in this life, there is resurrection.    

Thomas Merton, the Trappist theologian, says that suffering has no power and no value of its own.  “It is the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.” 

Remembering this fact is helpful.  Suffering has no meaning in and of itself.  God does not ask us to seek out suffering.  But when suffering inevitably happens,  our faith in the resurrection puts our suffering  into perspective, and we live in hope of what comes beyond the suffering, both in this world, and in the world to come.    

In 1942, in Poland, Jozef Ulma came to the door of his farmhouse after hearing a frantic knock.  A Jewish man stood there, and he begged Jozef to hide him and his four grown sons from the Nazis.  This is the moment in which Jozef had to make a decision that would almost certainly lead to suffering, since anyone who concealed Jews would be executed if they were caught.   Jozef chose to takes in the five men and later two sisters and a young girl.  These eight people lived in the garret of the farmhouse for the next eighteen months. 

Jozef Ulma was known as a kind and compassionate man, driven by his Catholic faith to care for all people.  So he chose to take up his cross and  gave the eight people shelter.  After eighteen months, an informant tipped off the German troops and the police, who came to the house, executed the Jew and then killed the entire Ulma family ffor their crime of sheltering Jews.    

When he opened his door to his Jewish neighbors, Jozef Ulma knew the risk he was taking, the suffering that he could bring not only on himself but on his family, but he had faith that even if he and his family did die, that they would be witnessing to the power of the resurrection to overcome death and evil. Their witness was one of hope for this violent and broken world.    Jozef must have believed that even if he and his family died,  that love could and would win out over hatred and violence.

In  September of last year, Pope Francis announced the beautification of the Ulma family, the step right before sainthood in the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis says that the Ulma family “represented a ray of light in the darkness of the war and should be a model for everyone in doing good and in the service of those in need.”   

This family became the light that shone in the darkness of war, and ultimately, the darkness did not overcome it.  As Jesus said in today’s gospel, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” 

As we deal with suffering in our own lives, here are God’s promises to us.   As the writer of Second Timothy says at the seventh verse in Chapter One, “God did not give us a spirt of fear, but rather a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” The spirit of God’s power, love, and self-discipline will do much to carry us through the suffering times in our lives.   

Jesus does not abandon us in our suffering, for he knew all kinds of suffering in his life, including his redemptive suffering on the cross.   Jesus suffered in all the ways that we do.  He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief—he experienced our grief.  Jesus is a companion to us in the worst times of our lives. 

When we believe that we can no longer bear our suffering, remember that Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

As Jesus was being crucified, thief hanging on the cross next to him made this request—“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”  Even as that thief suffered on his cross, he found rest for his soul when  Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Thomas a Kempis, who lived from 1380 to 1471 and wrote one of Christianity’s best-known devotional books, The Imitation of Christ, says in that book that “when you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God.  Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace.  For it is the grace of Christ, and not our own virtue that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world.  You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you arm yourself with faith and are signed with the cross of Christ…when there is a choice to be made, take the narrow way.”  

For when we take up our crosses by choosing the redemptive suffering that inevitably comes our way in this life,  we join with Jesus in being light and hope in the face of death.  We, too, make the power of the resurrection visible.  And as we take up our crosses, we will find ourselves, even in the sadness and suffering of this world,  with Jesus in Paradise. 



Kindy, Dave.  “Polish Catholic Family died sheltering Jews in WWII.”  The Washington Post, Saturday, January 27, 2024, B2, Retropolis.

The quotes from Thomas Merton and Thomas a Kempis are from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  Plough Publishing House, Walden, NY, 2003.