Passion: strong and barely controlled emotion; a state or outburst of strong emotion; intense sexual love; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something; a thing arousing enthusiasm. From the Latin: pati ‘suffer.’
Holy Week begins with the ragtag procession into Jerusalem, the one hailed as king riding on a lowly donkey. Love speaking truth to power. A pitiful sight, really, against the imperial power on display to discourage any resistance. And by the end of the liturgy, Jesus breathes his last breath, betrayed and abandoned, alone and suffering on the cross. Passion.
I read an article recently about an older man, Mr. McGuire, whose wife had just died, not long after their adult daughter, who had fought cancer since she was eleven years old, had died. It was heartbreaking. His only comfort was the way holding a weapon in his hand could make him feel in control when so many other aspects of his life did not…his collection grew over three decades of his daughter’s health emergencies. In the last few years he hadn’t fired a single one of those 81 guns he owned. But he had a passion for their presence, the feel of them, its ability to mitigate the pain, the suffering, the lack of control. Passion.
I hold his pain alongside the students in Parkland, Florida, whose lives were terrorized by the sound of gunfire within their school, bullets mowing down fellow classmates. I hear the fear and dread of students who go to school each day terrified that their school will be next, that they will be caught in the crosshairs of a weapon of war during passing period. They cannot vote but have passion—a conviction that things can be different and a desire for an array of concrete steps to mitigate yet another senseless tragedy. They, too, know of the pain, the suffering, the lack of control. Passion.
I hear the soundless screaming of those so consumed by their own pain, fear and suffering that it is drowning out anything good. Those who turn to the illusion of control, to the “ultimate adrenaline rush,” as one site puts it, of discharging magazines into their fellow human beings in order to experience a temporary relief from that which is too great to bear alone. Passion.
Jesus’ passion mirrors our own. Holy Week is one of the oldest practices of the Christian tradition; a time when the events of the passion are slowed way down, allowing us to take them in and to be transformed by them. On Maundy (meaning commandment) Thursday evening, we break bread as Jesus did with his disciples and remember his command to us: to love one another as he has loved us. We remember that following Jesus means going beyond our comfort level: embracing our own vulnerability in allowing our feet to be washed, and in serving others as we wash the feet of another. On Good Friday we hear again the passion of Jesus, allowing the enormity of his love for us to break through our numbness to pain and suffering in the world around us and buried deep within our own hearts. We sit in the terrible silence of the tomb on Holy Saturday, knowing that for many of us at this moment—perhaps we ourselves—are trapped in the all too real and painful darkness of death and the enormity of its hold over us. Passion.
Mr. McGuire, the students, all of us—even the potential gunmen, even those in power—are blinded by the illusion of isolation that results from suffering. It is in the depths of that hell that love sits with us, holding our helplessness and vulnerability with tender strength. And it is there that the deep mystery of Jesus’ passion dissolves even the power of death, even the terrible loss of control, even the blinding pain, until only love is left. What does it look like? When we allow that reality to seep deep into our hearts, a transformation happens within, even in the face of all that is broken in our lives, in our world. We see in each other ourselves—suddenly discovering a profound communion of love that is the beginning of healing. Beyound flight or fight. Resurrection.
Love knows there is another way that is beyond partisan if we can let go of our righteousness, our fear, our need for control. This Saturday I plan to join another procession speaking truth to power, the March for Our Lives, in support of the student survivors of Parkland and of all students. I do so holding the pain that is the backstory of those who hold other points of view, praying for us all. I hope we can hear the story of the passion with a commitment to solidarity with those trapped in the power of death, with those who differ from us, and to the brokenness in our own hearts. This is how Jesus lived, breathed, taught and died—present with the powerless. Life out of death.
Hope to see you Sunday,