Passion: Desire and Suffering (First Sunday in Lent, Year B, 26 February, 2012)

Passion: Desire and Suffering

Readings
Genesis 9.8-17
Mark 1.9-15

Create in us a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.

Have you ever been to a passion play? There is one held every year not far away from here at Lake Moogerah, and of course there is the very famous passion play held at Oberammergau in Germany every ten years.

In a passion play, ordinary people act out the events of Holy Week—Jesus clears the temple, he disputes with the religious authorities, he eats the final Passover meal with his friends, he is betrayed and arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, hoisted upon the cross and buried. The stone is then rolled away and Jesus comes in resurrection glory, victorious over sin and death and hell.

We usually employ the word ‘passion’ these days in a very positive way. If we have a passion, we have a strong desire for something. It may be a person, a motor bike or an ice cream, we can have a passion for it.

But ‘passion’ also has a kind of opposite meaning: it means ‘suffering’. A few years ago, Mel Gibson produced a film called The Passion of the Christ. It was very much about Jesus’ sufferings. Too much for my taste.

So there is intense desire and painful suffering; both are passion.

We can easily have both at the same time. If you love someone, you make yourself vulnerable to them. The one your heart yearns for may also be the one who causes you great suffering. We can see today that Jesus combines both desire and suffering in one.

Desire: Jesus comes to be baptised, the heavens are torn apart, God declares him to be the Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit comes upon him. Here we have the eternal dance of love that is the Holy Trinity set before us, Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal embrace.

Suffering: Jesus is driven by this same Spirit into the wilderness, where Satan tempts him and where there are wild beasts.

The Passion of Jesus Christ is desire and suffering together. How could it be any other way, since he loves us so?

Jesus is swept up into something that, if I can say it, is bigger than he is. He knows himself to be God’s Son, the Spirit comes upon him and then drives him into the wilderness to meet with Satan.

When ordinary people take part in a passion play, they are just acting. Or are they? I imagine it could be a transformative experience to be part of a passion play.

But we don’t have to go to Oberammergau or even Moogerah to be part of something that is bigger than we are. We just have to follow Jesus on the way of the cross.

I read this during the week:

Every person who responds to the call of Christ is cast into a passion play, given a part in a story of love too big and too powerful for mortals to control.

We have a part in a story that is way bigger than we are. It invites our desire and involves our suffering. There’s no other way, if we follow Jesus. Sometimes we will find ourselves in the wilderness, unsure of what is ahead and wondering how it will ever end. When we find ourselves there, there are some things to remember:

  1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. The Spirit didn’t plant a gentle suggestion in Jesus’ mind. Jesus had to go out there. Sometimes, we are in dry places because God puts us there. We need to continue to trust God, because God is with us there. And once our hearts are still enough, God speaks to us in the wilderness. This is important, because we easily get lost in the wilderness. It’s a dangerous place.
  2. The wilderness is where we are tested. It’s not easy being out there. The normal props we depend on don’t help. There’s no mobile reception. You have to look for water. Sand gets into everything. There are snakes. The wilderness is where our normal diversions don’t work anymore; there’s nowhere to plug the TV in. The suffering kind of passion is there in spades.
  3. The purpose of being in the wilderness is so we can learn to desire God more deeply. Our normal diversions don’t work—the mobile, the iPad, the coffee machine… We can decide that it’s boring and pointless, or we can seek God. Jesus encountered more than Satan and wild beasts in the wilderness; angels ministered to him. Angels help us too. But you know, the angels I’ve met have been human.

Let me remind you of that quotation:

Every person who responds to the call of Christ is cast into a passion play, given a part in a story of love too big and too powerful for mortals to control.

When we follow Jesus, our life becomes a passion play. We are invited to set our desire upon doing the will of our heavenly Father; and we are vulnerable to suffering as we confront the brokenness and sin within us. But the Spirit is always there, even when we’re in a desert place; and God gives us friends and a church family to be our angels.

It’s Lent. We’ll be walking with Jesus towards his Passion. We may be walking in darkness, over rough terrain with few markers on the way—but we can walk with confidence. Jesus has already gone the whole way. He has died our death, and invites us to live his life. It’s a story that is far bigger than we are—yet it’s our story too. Amen.

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