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With, Not For

Recounting the vision, [Julian of Norwich] ruminated on Jesus’ mother Mary’s suffering, the one who suffered more than any other in his death; then expanding the circle to include “all His disciples and all His true lovers suffer pain” at this death.  In this community of pain, forged by the suffering of Jesus, Julian articulated one of her great theological insights: “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.”  To Julian, the Cross was about ONEING — the complete unity of God with us and us with God; and not only us as humans, but as she relates from the vision, the ONEING of “all creatures that suffer pain, suffer with Him…and the firmament, the earth, failed in sorrow” and the planets, all the elements, and even the stars despaired at Christ’s dying.  The cosmic circle of grief, emanating from Jesus’ Passion, reveals that Jesus not only suffered for us; but he suffered with us — his death occurred for the sake of “Kinship and Love” with all this was, is, and will be.

On many a Good Friday, I have sat in a darkened church, listening to readings and music, all focused on the first preposition of the Passion’s equation: Jesus suffered  for us, for sinners, for the world, for me.  But only rarely have I heard spiritual reflection on the second preposition: Jesus suffered with us, with sinners, with the world, with me.

In my regular life, I am a writer.  I choose prepositions carefully.  There is a huge difference between for and with.  For is a preposition of distance, a word that indicates exchange or favor, it implies function or purpose.  I do something for you; you do something for me.  Notice: someone does something on behalf of or in another’s place. For is a contract.  Jesus suffered for us — means that Jesus did something on our behalf, he acted on behalf of a purpose, in place of someone else.  “For” always separates the actor and recipient, distancing a sacrificial Jesus from those for whom he died.  At the Cross, Jesus is the subject; we are objects.

By way of contrast, with is a preposition of relationship, implying accompaniment, or moving in the same direction....  With is the preposition of empathy, of sympathy, of being on the same side, of close association.

- Diana Butler Bass, "Good Friday: Being With Jesus at the Cross," a Good Friday sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria, Virginia, 4/6/2012.

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