21st March 2021 - Passiontide

Sunday 21st March 2021 - The season of Passiontide

As we approach Holy Week, we have a week to ponder our preparation – today we enter the season of Passiontide, which embraces Easter.

Passiontide is the name in the church calendar for the last two weeks of Lent where Christians move inexorably towards the most central and vital aspect of Christian faith – the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In these two weeks we share in Christ’s own journey, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the empty tomb on Easter morning. The procession with palms, which was already observed in Jerusalem in the fourth century, is accompanied by the reading or singing of the Passion Narrative, in which the whole story of the week is anticipated. Maundy Thursday contains a rich complex of themes: humble Christian service expressed through Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet, the institution of the Eucharist, the perfection of Christ’s loving obedience through the agony of Gethsemane.  After keeping vigil (‘Could you not watch with me one hour?’) Thursday passes into Good Friday with its two characteristic episodes. It is a widespread custom for there not to be a celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday.  The church remains stripped of all decoration. It continues bare and empty through the following day, which is a day without a liturgy: there can be no adequate way of recalling the being dead of the Son of God, other than silence and desolation. But within the silence there grows a sense of peace and completion, and then rising excitement as the Easter Vigil draws near.

But that’s all about the overall journey we take during Passiontide.

Today, we start Passiontide on this Sunday 5th Sunday of Lent – which is also known as Passion Sunday.  Passion is a word that is used a fair bit these days.  ‘What are your passions,’ is an often used question these days at job interviews. ‘I’m passionate about ...’ is a phrase much said in TV interviews, at conferences and so on.  We might like to ask ourselves that question.

The word “passion” found entry into the English vocabulary at the beginning of the 13th century and it use at that time comes from the passion of Christ – his suffering and his dying and seemingly the end.  The word “passion” in this context has all sorts of negative connotations.

However, there is another side to passion, isn’t there? One can fall passionately in love, or have a passion for music or be a passionate supporter of a football team – some people here at Christ Church have a passion for Charlton Athletic football club.  Not a passion that I share for me, but I guess someone has to.

I want to suggest that most kinds of passion are not free from suffering.  To continue with the footballing analogy, Charlton haven’t done so well of recent years and I think the fans have had to endure their team lose rather badly on a number of occasions and they have suffered.  When it comes to things that we are passionate about – for example music or art – to be really proficient and good at it you have to work really hard.  There is nearly always a struggle and some kind of suffering involved for things that we are passionate about.  Yet, this kind of passion is full of promises. It takes hold of our lives, fills them to the brim, and gives them direction. This kind of passion energizes us because it leaves us with one clear purpose, gives us hope.

If we can say anything about God, it is that God has a deep passion for Life because his nature is Life. God has a passion for Life. He is so full with Life that it spills over and transforms the most unpromising situations.  In Jesus’ passion he absorbed all the ugliness of life into himself and made life and new life possible for all of us.

There is a suffering passion, a transforming passion and a life-giving passion.

Jesus passion demonstrates all of these aspects of passion and we find them in our gospel reading. 

Jesus passion is a suffering passion.  In verse 27, echoing the picture of the garden of Gethsemane Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”  Looking to what was coming, Jesus is greatly troubled in in his soul.  Jesus passion is a suffering passion.

Jesus passion is a transforming passion.  In our gospel reading we find Jesus transforming the situation for the Greeks/the Gentiles. At the beginning it is the Greeks – the outsiders –  who ask the question that leads to Jesus reply which culminates in verse 32 “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”  Note the use of the word “All”.  The situation of the greeks/the gentiles are no longer outsiders, they are included.  Jesus death transformed the situation so that all are included and are sons and daughter so the living God.

Jesus passion is Life giving.  In verse 24, Jesus likens his own death to that of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground.  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  Jesus death will lead to life in abundance – many seeds resulting from the one that died.

In closing, we might want to reflect on what our own passions are?  What are we passionate about?  And how do they relate to the Passion of Jesus? If our passions spring from his passion, and are in response to his giving of himself for us, then they, too, will share his power to transform the world.

As we spend time in prayer over these next two weeks, let us ask God to help form and direct our passions.  May the Spirit of God stir up our passions and allow them to shape our lives with energy and life. 

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.