Usually, when we hear the word ‘groan,’ we think of an expression of exasperated displeasure. “Accident on 81. Traffic backed-up twelve miles.” Groan. “Robert Griffin III injured again.” Groan. “Honey, Junior has a soccer tournament in the morning. In western Pennsylvania. The bus leaves the school parking lot at 5:15. Can you drop him?” Groan.
But the groan of our Lord’s, during His intimate moment with the deaf-mute, and with the Father above—Christ’s groan indicated no exasperation. I think we can safely say that Christ never groaned over spilt milk in His life. Christ’s groan communicated something much more profound.
We read in the book of the prophet Ezekiel how the Lord commanded that the prophet groan. Groan, in order to teach the people that the day of the Lord is coming. Justice will be done.
Also, St. Paul says that we Christians groan within. We groan in this earthly tent of ours, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling. We groan, along with all creation itself groaning under the burden of sin, as we await our full adoption as God’s children.
And how about other times when Christ Himself groaned? He groaned when He found the people weeping over his friend Lazarus’ corpse. Then Christ groaned a second time, shortly after—right before He ordered Lazarus to get up and walk out of his tomb.
The groan of Christ does not express peevish displeasure with any trifling matter. It is a groan of longing. It is a groan, instead of a canticle, because God has united Himself in Christ with all of humanity’s suffering, all of the agony we bear. But Christ’s is not a groan of despair. Because, by groaning, Jesus, the new Adam, calls out with sovereign confidence for aid from above. Christ knows both our suffering and the Father’s kind will to comfort us. The Father does will to comfort us. Christ, and His own triumph over suffering and death, teaches us this fundamental truth: We were not made to suffer, we human beings. Not forever, anyway. We were made to exult.
Now, I have blithely skipped over perhaps the pre-eminent use of the word ‘groan’—pre-eminent both in Scripture and in general.
Of all those who groan, who groans with the most wrenching depth? Who groans with the most convincing eagerness? Gasping and panting…. Who is the champion of all who groan? Of course, the woman in labor. No one groans like her. We’re going to focus on mothers birthing babies for our ‘Labor’-Day-weekend sermon this year.
I don’t think it is an accident that the mother in labor shares with Christ in His great groan of longing, the groan He groans to the Father on behalf of our whole race. The groan that opened the ears of the deaf, that loosened the tongue of the mute, the groan that brought Lazarus back from the dead.
Some of us will never have children of our own. But that’s not the point exactly. We heard St. James exhort us, “Do not show partiality to those with rings and fine clothes. Do not despise the shabby ones, the poor child and the dark-skinned immigrant. God has promised the Kingdom to the ones with no extra cash.”
Forgive me, but I have to say this. Everyone know who Margaret Sanger is? Founded Planned Parenthood. And Donald Trump? I think everyone knows who he is. Anyway, what do they have in common? Rings and fine clothes? Maybe. But what they definitely have in common is: don’t like dark-skinned babies being born north of the Rio Grande.
My point is: Union with God in Christ means rejoicing at the birth of the poorest child. It means seeing with clear eyes that any newborn baby is worth a thousand Lexuses and a million rings. Because, through all the strife of mothers giving birth, through all the groaning, the Lord is giving us the future He wills for us. Through all this groaning, the Lord is opening up the only real door to the Kingdom of heaven. In the eyes of a poor child, the smile of a little child—a child who has nothing to his or her name, except his admiration for the shininess of the world.
We Christians cannot help but groan when we encounter the un-kept promises of Eden. The human race turned away from the Garden of God, just to build our own dingy castles the way we want them to be, according to all our supposed brilliance and awesomeness, on our own masterful terms. Why bother me to gaze at the dappled light on the mountainside? Can’t you see I’m checking my facebook! Pray? Who has time for such nonsense these days?
Christ’s groan says these two things at the same time: To the Father He cries, “See how my brethren suffer under the burden of having themselves shattered the paradise You made for them?” To us, Christ’s groan declares, “Groan with Me, my chosen ones, full-throated and unsparingly! Do not fall silent in despair. No. Groan and groan with me to the Father. Because He has plans for welfare, not for woe. This moment of trial and strife will pass. A beautiful future will soon be born.”