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The Apostles Creed
I Believe :
Jesus Suffered under Pontius Pilate

The Apostles' Creed 

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Jesus Suffered under Pontius Pilate

"My legs hurt. That's what I was first aware of. Then came the realisation that I couldn't move my arms. My head was throbbing. The dust was everywhere - in my eyes, stinging. Blocking my nose and fouling my mouth and making every breath a lung bursting effort. I tried to move my head to get my bearings and a sharp pain shot through me - absolute agony. And then I heard her sobbing. I didn't know where she was, but it was her - my daughter - sobbing. She sounded scared and in pain. I tried to call out, but no voice came. Silently I screamed "Where are you? Are you all right?" Nothing. I was helpless. All I could do was lie there and listen to her. Somewhere in the distance I heard noises - scratches, bangs, metal on metal, stone on stone - but above it all was the sobbing. That was all I could hear. There was nothing I could do. And then it stopped in an awful silence. I couldn't cry. I cursed God. "  

The words - as I remember them, for they made a big impression on me - of a survivor of the Haitian earthquake, interiewed on the radio. He was recalling how he lay trapped in the wreckage of his home. But they could have been the words of countless people who have suffered similar physical and mental agonies. He was lucky. The distant noises he heard were the sounds of rescue. They reached him in time, although he was to lose an arm and both his legs, but his daughter died just a few feet away from him. He also lost both his sons, his daughter-in-law and his baby granddaughter. His wife was at work, and survived unharmed, but she has to bear the shock and horror of losing her children and only grandchild. 

Most of us - thankfully - don't have to go through that level of suffering. But we all know what suffering is. We've all got our own stories of physical pain, of tragedy, of events beyond our control, of loss, of helplessness - and we can use these to emphasise with this man. I think what it would have been like to lie helpless and in pain in the rubble of my home, knowing that my own daughter was lying just a few feet away from me going through agonies - and being absolutely powerless to help her. I'm sure you can think yourselves in similar situations and anticipate what your feelings and thoughts would be. Would you - like him - have cursed God for letting it happen?  

Hold that thought for a moment as we consider the words about suffering in the Apostles Creed. Jesus Christ , Our Lord, the only son of God the Father Almighty, suffered under Pontius Pilate, before he was put to death by crucifiction, was buried and descended into hell.  

Interestingly the Creed says nothing about Jesus' life after he was born of the Virgin Mary, except that he suffered under Pontius Pilate. Yet we know that Jesus had a life that wasn't all suffering. He went to weddings. He worshipped in the synagogue. He travelled with close friends and enjoyed the hospitality of others. In short, he was a normal human being, just like us. And so, yes, he felt pain and he suffered just like us. He was tired, thirsty, he anguished over events. He saw the death of close friends. He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." That is part of the human condition, like it or not. But why is there such an emphasis placed on Jesus suffering under Pontius Pilate in the Creed? I suggest this is deliberate - it's more than just putting it in a dateable historical context - there is a good doctrinal reason.  


The suffering it focuses on was man made - it is personified by Pilate. Now I'm not a theologian, but I know the orthodox Christian view. That Jesus bore our grief and carried our sorrows. That he was the suffering servant, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities - as Isaiah says. That he was a whipping boy - literally - for human sins. And through that we are saved through his grace. 

There is a whole theology to support this - Christians believe that human beings can't cure themselves of original sin. The only way they can be saved from its consequences is by the grace of God, and the only way people can receive God's grace is by accepting his love and forgiveness, believing that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to redeem their sins. So in his suffering we see his grace to us, his determination to save us. In his suffering at the hands of man we see his determination to bring love where there is hate, to bring peace where there is war, to bring forgiveness where there is a lust for revenge, to bring justice where there is none. As men derided him, He made intercession for them. By his willingness to accept abuse, his offering of himself as our atonement for sin, he drains the world of anger and brings us to peace and wholeness. 

So when we recite that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate we are saying we believe that unconditional love and truth will have the final word. Our gut reaction to suffering is that it can't have any purpose, but every aspect of Christ's suffering proves otherwise. We often fight for justice, but merely settle for power. For me this is why the self-emptying nature of Jesus Christ, his obedience to suffer shame and punishment, is so important. Jesus abandoned every claim to power in the name of peace and justice. 

However, how do we square this with the testament of that man in Haiti. Or indeed our own experiences of suffering - some man made, but most not? How can the theology of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins help us come to terms with our own suffering in the here and now? 

I think the theology of suffering has maybe obscured the big picture, so I invite you to step back and consider the simple story of God acting in Jesus. He lived as we do so he can share our hopes and pleasures. He suffered as we do, so he can also share our despair and pains. His story reminds us that our pain and suffering arises from the depth of the human condition we all share. His story is one of hope out of a hopeless situation - the story of Christ's suffering is but the introduction to the resurrection. By sharing his story with us - not just in the gospels but also through our direct experience of him in time of crisis - God in Jesus becomes the ultimate pastoral carer. In Henri Nouwen's words he is the wounded healer who communicates to us his love. His presence precedes all words. In him we can recognise someone who has also shared life's journey and knows and shares our pain and suffering. 

And so let us not be afraid to share our stories of suffering with him in prayer. I believe there is a balm to be found in sharing our stories of suffering with the ultimate wounded healer whose own story engenders so much in the way of patience and hope. The wounded healer in whom the gospel message of love, forgiveness, patience, acceptance, become a real embodied response to human need, and grace becomes truly incarnate through us following his example. 

And finally, allow me to return to that interview with the man in Haiti, who had lost his arm, his legs, house, his children, his granddaughter, and who faced a very bleak future. Yes, in his agony he cursed God. Who wouldn't lash out at anyone and everyone at a time like that. It's only human. My God - why hast thou forsaken me? Yet, right at the end when the interviewer asked him what he would do now he simply said "I pray to God for help to cope." When all else is gone, God is still there. 

Grant Hutchison , 2010


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