If you’re one of those people who likes words, this Sunday may be of particular interest to you. ‘Passion Sunday’ is the nickname of the fifth Sunday in Lent because it is the day on which Passiontide begins. But what is meant by ‘passion’?
Nowadays, passion is mostly a word for a powerful longing or yearning, bordering on obsession. Contestants on TV talent shows speak of their passion for cooking, for singing, for dancing. Besotted characters in drama shows speak of their passion for each other. Passion, in this sense, occupies the complex and disputed territory where love, desire and ambition meet.
This does not seem to be the same thing at all as the kind of passion that we reflect on today and in these last few days of Lent. The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ has to do, above all, with his suffering. He is arrested, abandoned, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, tortured and ultimately crucified. This is an older meaning of the word passion, one that connects more closely with its Latin root which means ‘to suffer’.
But perhaps these different strands of thought may be woven together more easily than at first seems possible or likely. If we think of them as having something to do with love we can see how.
The kind of passion that enables a person to commit themselves to the suffering and endurance required to succeed at some particular skill or profession suggests a love for that activity, a valuing of it for its own sake. Without it, one would never be able to persevere.
These are comparatively trivial examples of the passionate love that held Jesus to his course. It was love for us, for the very people who subjected him to this suffering, that kept him steadfast.
This helps us, I think, to recognise that the passion of Jesus is rather more active than we sometimes imagine. It’s easy to think of him as a helpless victim, to prefer pathos to genuine passion. Jesus chose this path, we do well to remember, and bore its sufferings willingly out of love for us. Love for you. Love for me.
As passiontide begins this year, we are invited to reflect on Christ’s sufferings in a focused and deliberate way. To see them clearly, to understand them properly, it helps to think about ‘passion’ as an active expression of God’s love for humanity. I pray that we may all be granted grace to enter more deeply into this holy mystery.
May God bless you all,