Our Sufferings Can Glorify God
Our Suffering, The Challenges of Life, and Even Our Death Can Glorify God
by Holy Cross Seminarian Anthony Linderman
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
For me one of the best moments here in our church occurs every year on St. Nicholas day. While Fr. Luke is addressing the children, all of the sudden behind him emerges St. Nicholas! The children see him first and get so excited. Then Fr. Luke turns around, “Oh my goodness, it’s St. Nicholas!” It’s so fun! I remember this special event even I was a kid in Albania, but Fr. Luke himself was our St. Nicholas.
Those celebrations were very happy ones, and they were hosted by a special member of our missionary community: Lynette Hoppe. I know many of you are familiar with her story and her wonderful family. Our own Fr. Luke recorded her thoughts and her sanctifying twenty month battle with terminal cancer in his book called Lynette’s Hope, which I just recently read. I was just a little boy at the time of her death but I still remember her as “Teta Lynette” which is a term of endearment for someone who loved us children very much. I was too young to understand the magnitude of her witness at the time. The older I get the more I appreciate the eternal significance of the life and death of Teta Lynette, the kind missionary who made crafts for us as kids.
It is fitting to remember her today on this Sunday of the Holy Cross because her illness, though unexpected, gave her the opportunity to show the world what it means to take up one’s cross. The pattern of Christ’s life, the saints of the church, and Teta Lynette’s life teach that for the true Christian there is no escaping the cross. When the disciples asked if they could sit in places of authority and honor in the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” Meaning, can you die as I am going to die?
We cannot separate participating in Christ’s glory from drinking the cup of his passion.
Most often, we either know our cross or will discover it as we live out our Christian calling of who we, who we are meant to be, and what we are meant to do. Nathan and Lynette Hoppe knew for years that they were called to become missionaries like their parents, and they longed to fulfill the call. When their family finally traveled to Albania in 1998, their wish was granted. With support from dozens of churches in the United States they were able to follow in footsteps of St. Paul and the Apostles to preach the Gospel in all nations, like the missionaries in our beautiful icon here. Moreover, Teta Lynette was married to the man she deeply loved, and they already had their first son Tristan.
But the servant is not greater than the Master, Christ said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” If Christ suffered, will not we his servants and icons also suffer? Remember, glory and the cross are inseparable. In the Gospel of John, Jesus predicts multiple times that He will be “lifted up.” This word in Greek has a double meaning: He will be glorified, and He will be physically lifted up when He’s crucified. The glorification and crucifixion are one word, one event. When the time of his passion comes near, Christ prays, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Death, suffering, and the challenges of our life may be transformed by God to Glory and wonder.
For Teta Lynette, her cross came December 13th, 2004, when she discovered a painful lump under her arm. The next day she was examined by my father, Dr. Charles Linderman, who had the somber duty to inform his dear friends, the Hoppes, that Lynette had cancer. My father wrote reflecting, “Those that know Lynette will not be surprised to hear of her response… First, she consoled me as if I had to engage this struggle instead of her. After a moment to consider what I had just said, she followed with this reflection of her heart: ‘Well, Charles, now I have the blessing of showing the Albanians that we are serious when we say that suffering is an important part of our spiritual growth.’” She decided from the beginning that she would be witness of the Christian way of life which includes crucifixion.
Her journey, preserved in Fr. Luke’s wonderful book, is a precious record of a life offered back to God through glorifying Him in her death. It is relevant today when all too often we leave church feeling renewed and inspired, only to lose touch with that spiritual reality in the humdrum, inglorious slog of everyday life. Church is beautiful but what does it have to do with the tedious business of dealing with our coworkers, meeting deadlines, or going to the dentist?
Well, Teta Lynette’s battle with cancer shows us that even in the painful, mundane tedium of being treated for cancer we can carry our cross in a way that points folks back to God. In her January 2005 newsletter she offers an ever growing list of procedures she was enduring, “...I have been poked, prodded, anesthetized, sliced, stitched, aspirated, drained, biopsied, weighed, hospitalized, radiated-” None of this is a glamorous process. Yet the way she endured her whole struggle made her an inspiration and lead people to God. Archbishop Anastasios of Albania likened Teta Lynette to the ancient Christians martyrs, only instead of lions and imprisonment, she faced cancer “...as a brave, gentle, noble soul.” The Archbishop especially honors her decision “to pass from death to life” in Albania. The Hoppes chose this together, to give Albania, with a culture very afraid of death, an intimate example of how a faithful Christian is to die.
Her example inspires us to face the difficulties, humiliations, and day to day struggle of our everyday life in a way that redirects others to God. Others see how we face our daily battle, and how we carry our cross daily influences the way people see our faith in Christ. When the chips are down, either people will watch us forget God in frustration, or like those who saw Lynette Hoppe, they will see Christ’s own patience, endurance, and love shining through the mundane. Metropolitan John of Korca, her spiritual father, wrote this when she passed, “When I met Lynette for the last time, she was clearly in agony. She lay in bed pale, yet with bright grace and a palpable divine peace shining from her face… the very last words I heard from her mouth were, “What a wonderful thing!” She was able to drink the cup that Christ drank and passed into His glorious kingdom. Our suffering, the challenge of life, even our death, becomes our glorification and witness to God.
The same Jesus that she met also wants to shine out in us. The people we meet everyday do not know how badly they are longing for Christ. Whether in the office, on the jobsite, in the classroom, or the commute, may we be witnesses to that Christ. We do this through inviting God into our lives in regular prayer throughout the day. Also, God places a priest in our lives to serve as our spiritual father. He counsels us on how to let God best transform our bodies and souls into vessels to bear Christ. Our own priest, Fr. Luke, was an indispensable source of encouragement for Teta Lynette as she prepared her soul to meet Christ. We would be wise to consult him.
Though all credit goes to Jesus who transformed the cross from a symbol of humiliation, torture, and death, into the most powerful symbol of life in the world, that same Lord transformed Teta Lynette’s anguishing twenty month struggle with terminal cancer into a process of sanctification by which an entire country was invited to see what hope a Christian has in the face of death. I will conclude with her words which she left for her daughter’s graduation from high school which occurred only last year. Imagine, she wouldn’t be there for her daughter’s graduation, but she wrote this letter before she died
“Please know that because I am in Heaven, I am present with you through Jesus. I am a part of that great cloud of witnesses spurring you on to love and good deeds. Whatever direction life takes you in, please remember to be close to Jesus. I will always be praying for you.
So we see how our suffering, the challenge of life, even our death, becomes our glorification and witness to God. Amen.
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019