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Rector's Reflection: Passion and Compassion, March 16, 2024

Beloved Members of St. Martin’s,


Here we are already at the 5 Sunday in Lent. As we head toward the passion story of Christ in the next two weeks, we need to open our ears to the multiple meanings of the words in front of us in our gospel this Sunday, from John 12:20-33. Take the word “passion.” It originally in Latin meant “to suffer.” “Passion” can be a term for suffering in Christian theology, yes-- especially in some branches of the Christian faith, that suffering is emphasized intensively. In some parts of the world, the days leading through Holy Week may feature the faithful ascending a mountain on their knees or barefoot, as in Chimayo, New Mexico, or even having themselves placed on crosses, as in the Philippines. We must acknowledge that crucifixion was a terrible, torturous method of execution. Thus “Passion” when applied to Christ can remind us of what it cost Jesus to remain true to his earthly ministry among us. But in English, the word passion began to subtly become less negative around 1450, when the word began to be used for a strong emotion, including eventually the emotion of love.  This is the point that theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan point out in their book The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem. They remind us that if Jesus’s suffering for us becomes the core of Jesus’s message, the gospel message he embodied the other 32 years and 51 weeks of his earthly ministry to us itself gets overlooked. That’s why we have to remember the multiple meaning of the word “passion,” and remember the energy and the joy that passion can give to all life. As our last few weeks have reminded us, Jesus will be “lifted up” on the cross by his passion. Lifted up, because a “passion” is also something that is your love, your focus, your reason for being. So Jesus’s passion is not ONLY about Jesus’s suffering on the cross. Jesus’s passion is also about us examining the focus of his life, his words, and his example, which was the preaching of repentance so that we would be citizens of the kingdom of God. To remember and emulate what he was passionate about. Jesus’s passion was in healing those who were sick or isolated, in looking for those he could help, in confronting injustice and oppressing, of which there was plenty, just like there is now. Jesus’s passion was drawing disciples to himself who would themselves share in that work and not be miserly or reluctant about it. Jesus’s passion was that the abundant love of God would be made visible to the entire world—a world awash in suffering, fear, and cruelty already.


So may we spend these coming holy days and weeks remembering Jesus’s passion, yes, but also his compassion embodied as an example and model for those who call themselves disciples as Christians. Both passion and compassion are equally reverent, equally sacrificial in the best sense, and equally holy.


My prayer for all of us in these holy days is that we make the most of the gift that is Lent, especially this year with its emphasis on covenants in our readings, and rededicate ourselves to walking compassionately in the way of Jesus.


In Christ’s love,


Mother Leslie+


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