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Empathy Week

by George Garrison

Posted: April 8, 2020

A perspective on Holy Week in the midst of a global pandemic…

George Garrison is senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois. He began writing "Thursday Thoughts" during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so much of the church's activities had to go virutal.

Holy Week will be a wholly different experience this year. It seems strange to picture all the meaningful events we are used to attending with each other starting tomorrow night being observed only privately, or with family, or in technological ways. But we should not let our lack of ability to gather corporately affect how we remember this week.

We would do well to remember that the events of this week are not just about what brings us together; they are about all God has done to bring us to Himself. The events of this week are God’s emphatic answer to the common objective: “I can’t believe in a god who seems so distant and detached from our situation.” And in times where we are distanced and detached from one another, we need to contemplate and meditate upon what was involved in God in the flesh embracing the events of this high and holy week.

Last week I read yet another newspaper editorial stating the crucial role that empathy plays in our present pandemic. Stronger than just sympathy or compassion, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. During the public ministry of Jesus we get a glimpse into His compassion and sympathy. On one occasion Jesus looked out at the multitude and was “moved with compassion, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt. 9:36). He had the ability to be compassionate in that moment even though He had never shared their feelings, never known loneliness or distress in that way because He had always lived in perfect harmony and fellowship with the Father and the Spirit. At that point in time there was still some distance and detachment between God in human flesh and the human experience that sin produces. But that would all change in the events we remember this week.

While Jesus hung on the cross for us, He not only took on the sin that causes us to be distressed and downcast, He was willing to be alienated from God. He knew at that pitch-dark mid-day moment what it is to experience the darkness of suffering, loneliness, and isolation. Never again could it be said that Jesus feels compassion toward the multitudes only from afar. He understands and shares all of our sin and sorrow first hand, because His hands took the nails for us.

The empathy that our world recognizes is indispensable for getting through our particular crisis is found without measure in the Son, in any crisis. Because Jesus was willing to embrace all of the events associated with Holy Week, the scope and depth of His empathy knows no limits. But it came with a great price. As the popular ad campaign states- “the only way is through.”

There is no empathy without shared participation, and every event of this week involves that. He shares (and is spiritually present in) our observance of the Lord’s Supper He instituted. He shares in the betrayals and miscarriages of justice we feel and see in our world. He drank the cup of suffering and death to the dregs to share in our sufferings and experience of death. All the events of this week reveal the empathy only Jesus can share in our condition. And by God’s grace, His death on a cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins means not only that He empathizes with our condition; He has changed it forever!

The life and death of Jesus was the way through which He understands and shares ours. And then, on the third day, something truly miraculous happened. And there will come and day when we will experience the greatest empathy of all through that miracle. We will understand and share with Him what happened on that glorious morning.

The only way is through.

May the peace of Christ sustain us this Holy Week,

Pastor George

© 2020 George A. Garrison

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George Garrison is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

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Posted: April 8, 2020

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