Friday of the Passion of the Lord
If I say the word “passion” today, on Good Friday, it has a particular meaning: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. And that meaning is true to the word’s origins, for our English term comes from the Latin, passio, meaning, “to suffer,” or, “to endure.”
But if I say the word “passion” on almost any other day of the year, it means something quite different. I can say, for example, that Fr. Scott has a burning passion for gardening. (Has he told you yet that his garlic is up? I think he walks past it about 10 time a day to see if it’s grown any more.) In that sense, passion means enthusiasm, zeal, a strong feeling toward something. Or, if I saw George and Anne Marie in each other’s arms out in the parking lot after this liturgy, I might say I found them in a passionate embrace. That use of passion points to yet another sense: of intense, personal, intimate love—particularly of the romantic kind.
I cannot tell you historically how we got from suffering to enthusiasm to romance in the mutation of a single word over the years. I’ve looked all week, and have found no convincing explanation. But while I can’t make the historical connection, I hope to help you see this evening a deep spiritual one between these three meanings of “passion.”
Have you ever died for someone? Of course not…or you wouldn’t be here to answer the question! But if you were to do so, it’s safe to say you’d need to have a strong feeling about that person, or an enthusiasm for their cause, in order to give up your life on their behalf. And so, indeed, was the case for Jesus. We often have an image of Jesus being rather stoic in the face of his suffering and death…but it hardly seems that could have actually been the case. He was anything but a passive victim—not of the angry crowds, nor of Judas’ betrayal, nor of the Jewish leaders, nor of the Roman authorities. “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” Jesus asks a sword-wielding Peter. And to irritated Pilate he retorts, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you….” Jesus’ suffering is a willful choice—one made with great zeal for his mission. His is a deliberate, passionate decision to be obedient unto death.
It’s easy enough to see how the Passion of Jesus is connected to the passion of enthusiasm…but how can we connect the death of this virgin-born, single celibate man with the passion of romance? But I tell you, when the Cross is held before us in a few moments, my friends, we will behold the most perfect image of a wedding that the world has ever seen. Here we have the marriage of heaven and earth, of God and man. This blessed union began at the moment of his conception, when the Son of God took human flesh in Mary’s womb. But it’s on the Cross that we see this wedding most clearly displayed. On the Cross, we behold God doing something that would have been absolutely impossible for God if he were not united as one with man: we see God die. And on the Cross, we also see man accomplish something that would have been completely impossible for man if he were not united as one with God: we see man achieve salvation—saving you and me from sin, saving us from death. And this blessed union is one of pure, passionate love. (It’s no accident that in Latin, Jesus’ final words from the Cross—“It is finished”—are, Consummatum est, literally, “It is consummated.”)
We’ve of course heard, time and again, that Jesus died out of love for us, and we assume that that means he loved us all generally, generically, as so many members of the whole human race. But the love which led him to die was more personal, more intense, more intimate, more passionate, than any other romance the world has ever known. When he was nailed to his Cross, he had you, Ralph, on his mind. And when he breathed his last, he held you, Lindsay, in his heart. If you, Becky, were the only other human being on the planet, he would have died for you, anyway. And if he had to do it all over again just for you, Brent, he would.
Jesus went to his Passion with great passion and great passion. And believing that really ought to change everything, shouldn’t it?
I doubt I’m the only one, when faced with a difficult challenge, with the prospect of suffering, with something I’d rather not endure, who hesitates and pulls back. In fact, I’m sorry to say, I often enough will wait to see if the problem might somehow fix itself or just go away. But when I’ve been able to face a challenge or some suffering head on, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to achieve—far beyond what I thought was possible. And that’s because, by not running from the suffering, I’ve been in the place where God wants me to be, and doing the thing that God wants me to do, and so God fills that moment with his grace. I’m not suddenly some sort of superhero, but God is accomplishing his work in and with and through me.
Such hesitation, such resistance, such holding back, is the opposite of both passion and passion—and it’s not the way of life to which you or I, as followers of Christ crucified, are called. As long as we’re in this world, suffering comes to us. Are we prepared to face it with great zeal for our God-given mission? Are we ready to endure it out of deep love for our Savior?
Having walked once more with Jesus on the way of his Cross this Good Friday, let us accept any small share we might have in the Lord’s Passion with both passion and passion.