There has been a lot of talk recently, and a huge amount of press over the last several months, about Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of The Christ. It seems to me that it will become almost impossible this Holy Week not to make some sort of reference or allusion to the movie. Now I want to say right away, I have not seen the movie, so I am not going to comment on it, as to whether or not it’s a good movie or bad, and whether or not you should see it. I probably won’t see it because I am really quite squeamish when it comes to violence, and based on the images I have seen in the press, I think I’d probably spend most of my time with my eyes closed, and perhaps my ears plugged.
What I do appreciate about the movie, even without seeing it, is that people are talking. People are talking about the person of Jesus and the nature of his passion, death and resurrection and the meaning of Christ in their life. It can’t be a bad thing for people to talk about Jesus!
So it is within this context of Mel Gibson’s movie that we read today Paul’s words to us: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead. (Phil. 3:10, 11)
Paul links for us suffering, death and resurrection and reminds us that we attain the resurrection if somehow we share in Christ’s suffering and death. So with The Passion showing down the street, and Holy Week beginning next week, you and I, whether or not we have seen the movie, need to think for ourselves what suffering, death and resurrection means, both for us and for Christ, because next week, and especially next Sunday, The Sunday of the Passion and the following Friday, Good Friday, when the Passion is proclaimed as the gospel, we will be confronted face to face with the “good news” of Christ’s passion. How on earth can the terrible cruelty inflicted on Jesus during those last hours of his life when he was tried, convicted, tortured and crucified be in any way construed as “good news” by anyone?
Now it is easy enough to see how the resurrection alone is ‘good news’ in the face of death. Many would gladly follow Christ if the message was simply one of eternal life for all. But that’s not what Paul proclaims, or what the Church preaches. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection AND the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” For Paul and for us, resurrection is the fruit of suffering and death, and the power of the resurrection is made most clear when we face suffering with courage and death with joy. But are any of us prepared to accept such sufferings as those inflicted on Jesus with courage or such a death with joy?
So where is the good news of Christ’s passion, and how can we share in his sufferings by becoming like him in his death? Must we, like him, be tortured and cruelly executed before we can share the resurrection life? Or does the “good news” of the passion and cross invite us to take another look?
I believe that the good news of the passion, cross and death of Christ is that he suffered most, not because he was tortured, but because he loved much. It was because of love that he suffered. It was because of love that he died. And it was because of love that he rose again. As Dame Julian of Norwich says, “love was the meaning” not only of Christ’s birth, but also his death. It is when we learn to love like Christ that we will come to live like him, and when we live like him, we will also die and rise like him.
It was not because Jesus was oblivious to pain that enabled him to undergo such cruelty. It was because he knew the depth of human grief and loss and despair. And he knew that, because he loved.
The good news of the passion, suffering and death of Christ then is not that of attaining some degree of super human courage in the face of excruciating pain and torture but that by love Christ could face all that was given him and love still more; that by love he faced the powers of sin and hatred and evil, and could love still more; that by love he could face the final enemy of death and love even more; that by love he triumphed and rose again.
The good news of the passion of Christ is that when we share Christ’s life of love, we too can stare down the forces of cruelty, hatred and evil. That when we share in Christ’s life of love we will come to share in his suffering and know the power of his resurrection.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
We do that, not by learning to deal with pain and torture, but by learning to live Christ’s life of love. For if love was his meaning, then it is ours as well and it is through love that we will share both in his sufferings and in his resurrection.
The good news of the gospel, even the gospel of the passion, especially the gospel of the passion, is the gospel of love. When we like Christ, learn to love much, we will inevitably suffer much, but so too will we live much, even and especially in the face of death.
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