“Why Should I Listen to the Passion According to John?”
Sung by the Village Voices
Friday, April 6, 2012 7 pm
Trinity Church Rensselaerville
During the holiday seasons, like Easter, we like to feel joyous and happy. It is a time for family and friends and celebration. The celebration of Easter in our culture has waned rather strongly in recent years.
For children, it is a time for the Easter Bunny, egg hunts and chocolate. For adults though, as religious belief has diminished, the meaning of Easter has become lost.
One way to look at it in secular fashion is that, as we celebrate the changing of the seasons at the winter solstice in the festival of Christmas, we can take special joy in the coming of spring at Easter. It is a time for the renewal of life.
In fact some would say that the Christian festivals are really just an adaptation of earlier pagan festivals whose purpose was to rejoice in the annual earth cycles.
But for most in our culture the figure of Jesus Christ looms over Easter as part of early childhood learning or at least a notion that something about Easter has to do with this figure. The Passion of Jesus holds a central place in Christian belief. Yet it is the story of one rejected, condemned and brutally murdered. How can we take some meaning from this story in our contemporary life?
Part of the process of becoming an adult is to learn to deal with sacrifice. It is the lesson of “delayed gratification” that people who have mastered life know well. What we do not often think about is the fact that sacrifice is an integral part of life. Without sacrifice the world would not go round. The cycle of life itself depends on life being given up for life. It is an iron rule of nature.
Humans are the only creatures who can avoid or side step sacrifice. We are the only ones who can choose to be “selfish.” The flower cannot say, “No, don't pick me!” to the gardener. The gazelle, try though she might for her own survival, cannot say no to the lioness. Yet when we face the imperative to act unselfishly we can and often do say no.
What reason do we have to say yes when we are asked to give of ourselves? Moralists would say that it is completely rational to sacrifice because it is part of the social contract. In order for us to get along, we decide to be self giving. Of course, we get something from it too. We maintain the social fabric of our families, our community and our economy. So a certain amount of sacrifice is in our self interest.
But what about when the outcome is uncertain? Can we sacrifice then? We are now entering the realm of the heroic. Policeman, fireman, soldiers and others in our culture live in this realm. We give them great honor because they offer themselves for others. Without their heroic virtue our society could not be maintained.
Yet we can take so much for granted the “stuff” it takes to give one's life for others.
This is what the story of Jesus' passion is about. It is about a man giving himself for others. It is about how life can deal out profound cruelty. It is about betrayal by one's closest friends and loved ones. It is about the things that make life unhappy, unbearable and even absurd for some.
Yet in St. John's version of the passion, the figure of Jesus is triumphant on the cross. By undergoing his passion, Jesus overcomes the negative forces that have gathered against him. He has been given his life by the Father and, in the deepest trust in the basic good that exists in the universe, he freely offers his life back to the Father. A gift from the Father offered back as a gift to the Father.
Is this unthinkable? Is it something that no rational person would do? Yes it is. It enters a new realm, the realm of faith, the realm of belief.
This realm is one step beyond the heroic yet without faith, without belief, the heroic might not be possible.
This is what one will hear when one listens to the Passion according to John. It makes the cycle of life and death in nature, the cycle of self-giving make perfect sense. It gives us a pattern, a paradigm, for facing the sacrifices we must make in our own lives.
On the Christian level, it is even more meaningful. Jesus offers his life to the Father and the Father justifies this trust by raising Jesus back to life on Easter morning. This is the ultimate confirmation of the pattern of belief and trust that Christianity is built on.
This is the message of the passion. It is one that we all might benefit from learning.