Saturday, March 20, 2010

Passion Sunday I

The violet vestments have been replaced by red, the color of blood, signifying that in the final two weeks of Lent we draw closer to our Lord Jesus in His suffering and death. The Sunday before Palm Sunday is known among Anglicans as Passion Sunday. It prepares us for Holy Week somewhat in the manner that the “Gesima” Sundays prepare us for Lent itself. The veils on the altar crucifix and other icons remind us of the time when Jesus “hid himself, and went out of the temple,” signifying that the glory had departed.

The word Passion means suffering; one with a “passion” for art or music will actually go experience suffering as he devotes himself totally in self-discipline and practice. In His suffering under the scourge and on the cross, our dear Lord revealed God's great passion for the souls of men.

All four of the Gospels devote a disproportionate number of chapters to the final week and even the final hours of the life of Jesus. The accounts have different perspectives and emphases.

Matthew and Mark are almost the same, emphasizing the rejection, humiliation, and suffering of Jesus. Their picture of the passion is reflected in the painful crucifix above the altar. These two Gospels give only one of the “Seven Words,” the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The authenticity of the saying is evinced by the fact that it is quoted in Hebrew by Matthew and in Aramaic by Mark. Aramaic was Our Lord's normal spoken language, but Hebrew was the language of the Psalm He was quoting.

Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the compassion of Jesus, which strangely elicits the compassion of others. It is Luke who tells us that “there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him” (Lk 23:27). Luke gives us three words from the Cross, including, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and the word of compassion to the thief, “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Luke's third word reflects the serene resignation of Jesus, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke's version is reflected in the San Damiano icon at the side altar.

John presents yet a third picture, a picture of Jesus already in majesty. Jesus at every point is in full control of the situation, causing the soldiers in the garden to fall down in awe, and clearly worsting Pontius Pilate in the trial. John relates three other words from the cross: “Woman, behold thy son, Son, behold thy mother,” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” All three reflect Jesus in command, even to the point of demanding a drink! The royal Christ is portrayed for us in the Christus Rex over the west door.

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