The Passion is like a diamond.
We stand in awe of it.
It is a many splendoured thing, so saturated with truth and wonder that we will never truly understand it fully. It is a gift. We receive it. And we give thanks.
Here are some thoughts to aid your reflections.
The Passion is a picture of abject suffering. A man beaten almost to death at a whipping post, then strung up on a beam to die. Slowly. It evokes our strongest emotions. It also reminds us of our sin. Stuart Townend’s hymn, How Deep the Father’s Love, is particularly insightful, yet one line stands out for me.
It was my sin that held him there.
This is my doing. I’m responsible for this. As an earlier line from the hymn states, ‘my guilt upon his shoulders.’ This wonderful, wise, compassionate man, who invited the poor and destitute into his fold, who spoke truth, was bold, brave, and remarkable . . . I have killed him. I’m no better than Pilate or Herod. Oh how can this be?! How can I avoid the huge burden that now weighs upon my soul? As I survey the scene, I’m still there, gazing up transfixed. Why? Because I’m a serial offender.
My persistent guilt, demonstrated each day in weakness and sin, keeps me there, so when I view the cross, Christ is still hanging there in my place. He won’t come down. For some, this is why the crucifix shows Christ nailed upon a cross. Guilt and shame never go away, so there is a daily need to cling to a crucified Saviour, in an attempt to assuage the guilt.
And that’s not right. That’s not right at all.
Because we’re only part-way through the story. The empty cross is our glory. A risen Saviour is our boast. We’re not shackled in guilt, but as the hymn states, ‘his dying breath has brought me life.’ ‘How awful, then, when we turn to religion. What a travesty when we talk about grace, but live out of law. What a betrayal of our faith when we set aside our freedom to offer ‘virtuous rule-keeping’ in an attempt to pay off our debt. It’s addictive, because ‘being good’ certainly seems to ease the guilt.
Such thinking must stop immediately. For if grace does not give us freedom, right now, it is not fit for purpose. The Passion was never intended to keep us there bowed before a bloody man, wringing our hands in regret and shame. It was always supposed to show us love, the great love of God who removes all guilt and shame. It was always supposed to set us free.
It does set us free!
Pause for a moment.
Questions for reflection:
When you think of your guilt, what do you do with it?
What does God’s grace actually mean to you?
To whom is God calling you to extend grace today?
John, in his gospel, constantly talks about fulfilment. He’s obsessed with it. For me, fulfilment is both an apologetic and a testament to the symmetry and beauty of the story-telling in the bible. It is remarkable how all the pieces fit together. More importantly, however, fulfilment speaks about love and commitment. Not ours. God’s.
When Christ fulfils Scripture, he does so to demonstrate that he’s the Messiah. But he also does so to show that God fulfils his promises. When we promise to do something, we give our whole-hearted commitment to follow through in the face of whatever obstacles may stand in our way. That’s why marriage vows are so precious.
When John keeps pointing out Christ’s fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, he’s saying this: Israel’s God, YHWH, who formed a people and set them apart, he’s a God who can be trusted to follow through. He’s a God who saves. He’s a God of everlasting love and commitment to those he loves. He has never changed, and since the beginning of the world, he’s been working on a plan to save humanity. Its culmination has now arrived. See all the signs in the life of his Messiah? They show that God is a promise-keeper and now he’s fulfilling his promise to save those he loves.
Questions for Reflection:
How important are promises to you?
God promised to rescue you through giving his Son. How do you respond today to that truth?
Whom do you trust? In the face of difficulties and struggle, do you trust God? How do you show it?
We can put up with almost anything if there’s a purpose to it. This is especially true of suffering. My favourite moment in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, is when Mary kneels down next to Jesus, who’s collapsed while carrying his cross. He looks up at his mum, and says, ‘See, mother, I make all things new.’ It is one of the most poignant moments in the movie, while also conveying a profound truth – to be meaningful, suffering absolutely must have a purpose within the will of God. It must. We are not masochists, bent on our own destruction. We are called to give our lives away, to make sacrifices for our God, because that’s why we live. That’s our purpose, which means our suffering has purpose.
The Passion is the moment when God, in Christ, ‘makes all things new.’ He begins the work of restoring our world, and in order to confront evil, that work requires suffering in the service of a noble and holy goal. It cannot be avoided. This is the God we serve. He is committed, and loving, and brave. He doesn’t wring his hands and wish that everything will work out. He does what’s required to save us. And then he calls us to suffer and die with him.
How is the Lord speaking you to this Easter? Take some time to reflect and pray.
Questions for Reflection:
How brave are you?
What difficult thing is God calling you to do?
As you meditate on the Passion of your Lord, what new thing do you see?