Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday
The Action in the Passion

Readings: Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1—19:42


Sisters and brothers, don’t you think it is a very strange and surprising thing that we are doing this afternoon? Have you noticed the title given to our liturgy today? This is no ordinary prayer service. It is not just a commemoration, or a reflection, or a meditation. No, what we are doing today is nothing less than a celebration, a Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. And, as the dictionary tells us, the word passion comes from the Latin root passio, meaning to be acted upon. Don’t you find this strange?

We live in a world that celebrates and values action, being in control, having the strength to take one’s life into one’s own hands, having the freedom to do whatever one wants. Isn’t that what we spend much of our lives doing – preparing and training ourselves to act? And here we are celebrating the Lord’s weakness and suffering, his handing over control of his life into the hands of his enemies, his submission to being acted upon by others, his Passion. Don’t you find it strange, if not bizarre? Do we really appreciate what we are doing here? Do we really know what it is we are celebrating?

You will remember that we already heard an account of the Lord’s Passion on Palm Sunday. That reading is always taken from one of the first three gospels, from Matthew, or Mark, or Luke. And you may have noticed, how in these three gospels, Jesus does seem to a large extent as one who meekly accepts all that befalls him. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he is silent and submissive. And perhaps this is not far from how it actually happened two thousand years ago.

But things are a little different in the account of the Passion that we just heard. This reading on Good Friday is always taken from the gospel of John. And here, even though he endures essentially the same sufferings, we see a Jesus who always seems to be in control. At the garden across the Kedron valley, Jesus causes his captors to fall to the ground simply by saying, I am he. At the high priest’s palace, Jesus challenges the guard who strikes him. At the Praetorium, he turns the tables on the one interrogating him, leading Pilate to examine his own relationship to Truth. On the cross, he gives his Mother Mary and the disciple whom he loves to each other. In this account of the Passion, it is very clear that no one takes Jesus’ life from him. He freely lays it down on his own accord (see John 10:18).

What are we to make of this apparent difference? Rather than feeling like we have to choose between this account and the one we heard on Palm Sunday, are we not instead being invited to reflect more deeply on what is really happening to Jesus, on what Jesus is really doing? Isn’t John’s account of the Passion trying to lead us to see Jesus’ strength in his apparent weakness, to see his freedom in his submission, to see his action in his passion?

As we heard in the first reading today, the lamb led to the slaughter-house is also the one who freely chooses to bear our sufferings and carry our sorrows. The disfigured and humiliated one is also the one exalted to great heights. And this is the One in whom we profess our faith, the faith of which the second reading speaks. Even as we find ourselves living in a culture that values action, especially action on behalf of self, we dare to profess faith in the One who humbly submits to the will of the Father and learns obedience through suffering. We do this because we believe that this is what true strength and true freedom and true action looks like. We can joyfully celebrate Christ’s suffering and death, because we are led to see the action in his Passion.

Sisters and brothers, as we well know, our celebrations are meant to have an effect on our lives. Where is the action in our passion? Where is the passion in our action?

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