March 1, 2015 Experiencing the Passion of Jesus
In the year 2,000 I spent forty days doing the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. The time was divided into four weeks and each week we prayed over a different aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. The third week was praying the Passion Story, and early in the week, when I was being less focused in my prayers, my spiritual director said to me, “Doug, this is probably the only time in your life when you will have the opportunity to give your undivided attention to the Passion of Jesus.”
One of the themes of Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s sermons and writings is: We are called to follow the way of the cross of Jesus for it is here that true Christianity is found.
These two comments have been instrumental in my shaping our Lenten experience this year. I have puzzled over how to make the cross of Jesus central to our faith. In the lessons assigned for each Sunday we have—possibly—only one opportunity during the year to actually hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. On the Sunday before Easter there is the opportunity to hear the whole Passion story and we have done it in a variety of ways here. However, that is also Palm Sunday and there is the desire on many people’s part to make this only a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
That leaves only Good Friday as the only possible day to hear the story of Jesus’ Passion. But most people will not come or refuse to worship on Good Friday because:
• it is a holiday weekend and the family is in,
• it is not Sunday and we only worship on Sunday,
• it is all about death and we want to deny the reality that we are going to die,
• it is sad and I only want to be happy,
• it reminds me of how much my sin cost Jesus and I don’t want to feel guilty, or
• the cross of Jesus is the stumbling block to faith.
The two big Christian holidays of American Christianity are Christmas and Christmas. Oh yes, Easter comes in a distant second with Mother’s Day following up in third place. Good Friday does not even make the top ten.
Why is that?
If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ONE absolutely unique aspect of Christianity that separates it from all other religions, why does it not have a more prominent place in our religious observances?
Throughout Lent this year I have chosen to make the Passion of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark to be the Gospel lessons during Lent. The Gospel of Mark is a short, terse gospel with most of the story being about the suffering and death of Jesus, why it came about and how he ended up in that place. Therefore, I have chosen to break up the Passion of Jesus into smaller chunks to be read each Sunday in Lent. As we hear each part of the story I will pull out one character from that story and dramatize his or her role in Jesus’ Passion. On Wednesday evenings we will hear a story from our own time that parallels the challenges and the choices of that biblical character.
In seminary we students learned a refrain from Mark: eight thirty-one, nine thirty-one, ten thirty-two. We repeated this until it sunk deep into our souls. Each of these three chapter and verse references in Mark are the times when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be betrayed, to suffer, to die, and to be raised from the dead. It is foreshadowing, and the disciples do not get it.
On Ash Wednesday I told the first of those predictions and then told Andrew’s story as he wrestled with the question of what it all means. In Mark 8: 34 it says, “Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”
On the first Sunday in Lent, last week, we heard the story of the un-named woman who broke open the jar of costly nard—worth a year’s salary and meant to be saved up for her own body’s preparation for her funeral—and poured it on Jesus’ head. She anointed Jesus as a sign of her great love for him, as a tremendous act of self-sacrifice, and to anoint him king.
Spoiler alert: She is the only character in the story of Jesus’ Passion who took the same way as Jesus; every other person chooses the way that is not the way of the cross, not the way of Jesus.
So we take Jesus’ words as our theme verse for Lent: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
What does this mean?
• How do you deny yourself?
• How do you take up your cross?
• How do you follow Jesus?
This is the year for you to have the opportunity to experience the Passion of Jesus.