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Christ the suffering servant nourishes our souls and binds our wounds

Allen Sleith Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr used to remark that when he set his Bible down on the desk, it fell open at Isaiah. This was no coincidence.

Niebuhr reread the evocative words of the prophet so often that the spine of his own personal bible developed a crease exposing the pages of chapters 52 and 53, the best known of the four Servant Song passages in that book. It depicts the Suffering Servant who acts as the sacrificial means whereby God's will is done in bringing about salvation and forgiveness.

Opinions vary on whether the servant is an individual, a faithful remnant or the people of Israel as a whole, but Christians can't help seeing here a prophetic image of Jesus the Christ.

The passion of Holy Week, perennially observed in the Church, reflects upon the various aspects of Jesus' suffering for our salvation at God's behest, culminating in his death and burial.

Then, beyond all human expectations, Jesus is raised, his resurrection interpreted by the New Testament writers as revealing that he is the Lord of mortality and morality, death and sin overcome. The cluster of events that constitute Easter, from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, is the core story that the Church narrates as it testifies to the good news of God's decisive acts in these verifiable historical facts - the gospel truth.

When Jesus reappears to his disciples, he helps dispel their lingering doubts by showing them his wounds of suffering: his hands, his feet and his side. In face of their faithlessness, he loves and forgives them, showing the faithfulness, the grace and the steadfast love that God eternally is.

His resurrection reveals God's vindication of all that Jesus did and endured. There's no trace here of a vengeful, vindictive God who seeks out, hunts down or harangues with threats any of the disciples or Jews or Romans who played a part in Jesus's death.

A god made in our own image or imagining would likely have vented his fury and sought to get even. The risen Jesus does none of those things. Instead, he embodies Isaiah's evocative image. He is the Wounded Healer, the Suffering Servant of God by whose wounds we are healed.

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