When we hear the word “passion”, it’s often used in the context of a question: “What’s your passion?”; that is, what’s your strong interest or unique talent, or a driving force behind a personal hobby, goal or mission?
Scuba-diving. Wood-working. Studying the medieval history of the papal conclave in the Roman Catholic Church.
Whatever, whatever that unique passion may be, we’re always encouraged to act upon it, to follow it.
Passion. It’s a loaded word, a `sunny’, bright, good word, full of promise, and optimism.
In church circles at this time year, especially during Holy Week, we hear the word “passion”, but this time, the word refers to something far more dark, heavy, and bleak.
This Sunday “Palm Sunday” is also known as “Passion Sunday,” referring to “the Passion of Jesus” – the suffering and death of Jesus.
The word “passion” actually comes from the word pascho, which means “to be done to”, “to be acted upon”, “to suffer” – a kind of passive state of being in which a person is helpless and powerless in face of events and circumstances over which that person has no control.
The “passion” of Jesus is really the story about Jesus in that final week before his death allowing all the forces conspiring against him to take their course – and not resisting, escaping from or fighting against the people and circumstances gathering against him.
It’s about Jesus allowing himself to be carried along with the tragic events as they unfold, as if his life was drawn inexorably and unavoidably forward to an eventual conclusion that he knows will not end well.
Like standing strapped to a conveyer belt heading toward a cliff, and there’s nothing you can do except let the inevitable happen.
Jesus knew he was a marked man, and that sooner than later, he’d be stopped and killed by the authorities.
Now, Jesus always had the choice to abandon his mission, to resist his perpetrators, and escape eventual arrest and death.
But he didn’t. Despite the hostility directed toward him, Jesus made the deliberate, conscious decision to stay true to his mission. He submitted himself to the unfolding of events. He intentionally handed himself over to the unfolding drama – to Judas, to the soldiers, to Pilate, to the hostile crowds, to torture and execution. Jesus endured his Passion.
We can draw strength and deep comfort from remembering this: that Jesus stayed in place; remaining true and committed to his mission, no matter how difficult it proved in the last days of his life.
He must’ve been able to keep trusting in God’s goodness, life and love as more powerful than anything else. That must’ve helped keep him going through those last days and hours.
And I suspect this to be true because, right at the end of the Gospel passage today, there’s a really interesting and obscure reference to stones, of all things.
I can imagine Jesus, as he enters Jerusalem riding his donkey, his eyes downcast on the stony pathway before him, pondering his impending doom, and even harassed by some Pharisees, he picks out and notices the stones on the pathway.
And for a moment, he sees even these hard, grey, life-less stones in a completely new light.
He imagines them shouting out praises to God!
Imagine that! Stones!
No matter the impending clouds of doom descending on him, Jesus believed in a beautiful, wonder-filled world God made, a world shimmering with the colour, joy and beauty of God’s presence and goodness, so much so that even simple, ordinary, easy-to-overlook stones could tell of the world’s beauty and goodness; a world made whole by the forgiving love of God, a love made visible by Jesus, who loved the world so much that he was willing to die for it all.
You’ve heard of the “Prayer Labyrinth.” A number of churches have this labyrinth painted onto a floor area. It’s based on the 13th century prayer labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France.
Essentially, it’s a large circular labyrinth on the floor designed as an aid to prayer and meditation. In silence, a person enters the labyrinth on the outside circumference, with the intention of getting to the centre of the circle.
But if one follows the path, one finds the journey filled with twists and turns, a labyrinth of winding pathways that first take you closer to the centre where you want to go, but then, suddenly, take you farther away back toward the outside circumference. How frustrating!
But, through it all, one never leaves the circle. And eventually, if you just stick with it, you do finally arrive at the centre.
No matter its twists and turns, our journey through life never takes us outside the grace and presence of God. As St. Catherine of Sienna in the 14th century said, “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus is [with us along] the Way.” We’re always “in God”; God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
I was reading recently about a certain Roman Catholic religious order for nuns in the U.S. Back in the 1950s, it was brimming with activity and many novices. So many women were coming each year to train, learn, and discern their calling to join this particular religious order.
We all know what’s happened to many religious institutions over the last 60 years. Well, this religious institution was no different. This once buzzing monastic house, like many, significantly reduced in numbers.
But, and here’s the “but” – the few nuns that remained over the last couple of years, held on to the one thing that mattered: remaining faithful to their special and unique call to host, teach, and love others in Christ’s name.
So many things in the wider culture over the decades had been changing and happening to them, “acting upon them” outside their control. The economy. Technological advances. Cultural shifts in understandings of religion and spirituality.
Finding how to live their call and mission in the midst of great change had been a struggle. But the nuns kept at it, and stayed in place.
And today, the place is still a `happening’ place, still buzzing, but not with the sounds of countless novices, but with people of the surrounding city: men coming on retreats, caregivers prayerfully seeking renewal, ecumenical groups worshipping every Wednesday of Lent and Advent, clusters of people passionately addressing issues of the environment and social justice.
All welcomed, taught, and loved by that community of nuns.
We endure, and prove resilient, just like Jesus as he faced his final hours, because ultimately God fills all of creation with Holy, Loving Presence, God in whom we live and move and have our being.