One hurricane and you volunteer, make a donation to Lutheran Disaster Relief and remember the victims in your prayers. Two hurricanes, another LDR donation and prayers. Three hurricanes, prayers and well you don’t much energy left for anything else. It’s called compassion fatigue and in its extreme is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion along with a decrease in the ability to empathize. It’s a form of secondary traumatic stress that occurs as a result of helping or wanting to help those who are in need. It leaves you feeling numb and overwhelmed often with a good dose of guilt for not having the energy to care.
Sometimes I think the church suffers from passion fatigue. We think won’t it be wonderful if we could leap from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Alleluias of Easter without hearing the cries of Crucify in between? Some churches do. A few years ago, one of our twenty-somethings showed up in church after worshiping at a mega-church for a while. I asked her why she came back and she said, “I just couldn’t be that happy all the time.” She missed the cross.
Passion fatigue was an issue even among Jesus’ disciples. After three years of following him, helping to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and cast out demons, Judas betrays Jesus and Peter denies Jesus three times. In the early church, particularly in Corinth some wanted to avoid the passion, the cross, completely. They pondered the mystery of God, but were reluctant to believe in God. Others wanted the miracles – signs and wonders that would provide proof of God. While still others sought salvation through their own spiritual gifts and what they could do to impress God. For all of them Jesus was something to add their life to make it more interesting and satisfying. Paul will have none of this and returns them and us to the basic act that changes everything and that’s Christ crucified.
Christ crucified means God never has passion fatigue – for in Jesus’ crucifixion, God shows passionate love of us and dares to work salvation in us. This is how Pastor Eugene Peterson put it: “We try a lot of different ways to live well, to be complete. Nothing does it. We cannot achieve it on our own. God achieves that completion for us. Christ comes. Christ is crucified. It happens. Our lives are saved. Our sins are forgiven. Christ crucified works from the inside, enters the troubled condition, and receives it into himself, becoming the sacrifice that becomes the life of salvation.”[i] If Paul and Eugene were specifically addressing us, I imagine them saying, “In God’s passionate love through Christ crucified, dear people of St. John’s, live deeply, grow in depth and breadth and share generously.”
Take a good look at our cross. It was made in Germany especially for this church. Are there nails or the rays of the Son or both? Always both. Amen.
[i] Eugene H. Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Waterbrook, 2018, 286.