On the Sunday before Palm Sunday Passiontide begins. The word passion comes from the Latin, passio, meaning suffering; and in our context, Christ’s suffering.
I would guess that the Passion has been the most pictured event in Western art of all time. Our galleries contain many representations of the agony in the garden, the trial, the crucifixion and the empty tomb. From the 2nd century to the present day what happened to Jesus of Nazareth has inspired artists from Paul Gauguin, to Rogier van der Weyden.
There are a number of explanations for why Christ’s passion is so important; they range from the ancient and simple to the modern and complex. Some work purely on a metaphysical level. For example, for some people, God’s justice required a price for the sins of mankind and the only perfect sacrifice possible had to be provided by God himself, his sinless son. Salvation follows because the wrath of God has been averted by the sacrifice of the Son.
Such an idea makes perfect sense in a culture used to the regular offering of various sacrifices in order to maintain or repair the worshipper’s relationship with his god. In this explanation the perfect sacrifice has been offered, once and for all, and now faith in what it has achieved is all that is required.
Other explanations work on a more worldly level. For example, the dreadful suffering and death of Jesus flowed from his stubborn refusal to give up his teaching and calling the authorities to account. His message was so contrary to the interests of those in power that he was bound to suffer crucifixion as a dangerous revolutionary. But if he had withdrawn from the public stage and lived quietly and safely, then all he had said about the true nature of God, and what he hopes of us, all that makes for the kingdom of God, would have faded into rapid obscurity.
We are saved through his life, his teaching, his acceptance of its consequences and finally, God’s affirmation of his life at his resurrection. The sacrifice of Jesus is real, and suffered voluntarily, not to appease God’s wrath, but rather as mankind’s inevitably vicious and violent response to what is good, fearless and challenging, what is truly a reflection of the love of God.
I shall try to illustrate some of the different approaches to the crucifixion, in art, film, music and in various theologies during our three hour service on Good Friday (see the page opposite for details). If the crucifixion, and why it is so important to Christian faith and practice, has always puzzled you, come along and find an approach that speaks to you.
In the end though, whatever way of looking at the Passion inspires us, it is what we do with it that counts. Whether it is to cause us to worship the God who loves us without end, or to move us to follow Jesus’ teaching that bit more seriously. Such a sacrifice should not leave us without a response.