Lent 5 – Br. James Koester
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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The passionate kind of love that opens doors to homeless (not shelter doors, but our comfortable home doors), finds jobs for those released from prison, engages in relationships with those who can offer us absolutely nothing, sets aside weekly money for food for the hungry; listens, blesses and prays for those who hate our faith, politics, etc is a deep love that does not offer comfort, safety, or security to the giver. That love, Christ’s love, is only possible when we realize it is possible. I am blessed to have seen this very love in action in my dads life from age 66 to 86. He showed me what true active love for Christ could look like by opening his home and heart and wallet. Our Christian relatives would complain he was being foolish and too compassionate for his own good. The fact he was compassionate for Christs’ good was lost on them. My dad gave me the greatest gift a man could give his daughter –
the visible proof of Christs’ love in this world.
Dear Rhode, I am completely in line with you (and I practice) everything you said about what passionate love means (“true active love for Christ”). I pray that I will some day have the courage and strength to do more than open shelter doors for the homeless, but to offer my own home as well or instead. I would love to hear how this works for you and how it worked for your dad. I need some encouragement and inspiration. This is something I have wrestled with for a very long time. Peace ~
Thanks SusanMarie. You are on a good path! My dad tried to put God first everyday. Prayer and scripture before breakfast. Service became easier after reitrement and my mom’s passing and no dependent kids. We do have a large extended family in the NL and he committed himself to them. That committed love grew to include neighbors, street people, refugees etc. The more he reached out the less he feared the consequences of his actions. Was he robbed? yes. Was he taken advantage of? many times. Did we all pray and worry about him and give him grief? endlessly. His humor and forgiveness shocked and shamed us. We all long to be like Christ. Most of us too pragmatic, too thoughtful, a bit fearful of being called foolish …never mind real fears of bodily harm. My dad cast whatever bread he had on the waters, sowed without regard for weather or outcome… drove us all crazy with his complete disregard for his own welfare. He loved large. His advice to me was put God above everything. I am not my dad but God is so good. Count on that! Always – Peace and love!
Thank you! I face the same response and criticism and worry when I talk about wanting to bring homeless and refugees into my home. I’m not afraid of what others say; it’s my own fears and doubts about where and what is truly best for people like this. I also realize part of this is above my skill set. I am not a mental health professional and some shelters can offer more than I can in terms of support. However, I know that none of these places–with all the resources they have–can replace the human element of presence. I sit with the homeless and talk with them, but stop at inviting them into my home. It’s a step and I know they are better for the conversation and care, but I need (we all need) to know what God is calling us to do. I don’t believe that is a cop-out. Christianity is not a one-size-fits-all-religion, and shouldn’t be. I pray to know what God wants me to do in these cases. You have given me much to think about and much encouragement. How blessed you are to have seen radical Christianity up close! Blessings & Love ~
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It is with sadness that I recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday anxiously expecting somehow to hear the core message of Jesus teaching: Love one another. The suffering, dogmas and miracles of human flesh are there, but I still want to hear it: love one another. So to you and Dame Julian of Norwich I say Amen to “love was the meaning” not only of Christ’s birth, but also his death.
Anders, I strongly agree! It amazes me that we recite a creed each week that tells us nothing about the core message of Jesus’ teaching. The Episcopal Church has been so brave and courageous in many areas. I continue to hope and pray and and voice my desire for something in our liturgy which allows us to proclaim as followers of Jesus who He really is.
thank you. truly touched.