Lesson 22: The Passion Story

The passion of ChristThe Gospel of John changes the love command from “love your neighbor as you love yourself” to “love your friends as Jesus loved you.” When John has Jesus put it this way at the Last Supper, he immediately makes the Passion the best expression of Christian love.

All of the many atonement theories that attempt to define what this means have ragged edges. For instance, the most popular one that features Jesus being a substitute for the rest of humanity leaves us with an awful picture of God demanding a punishment for sin that is satisfied by child abuse. Of course, every theory attempting to explain divine-human interactions is going to fall short, leading the great logician Ludwig Wittgenstein to observe, “What is ragged must be left ragged.”

It is better to admit atonement refers to a real life experience best grasped by reliving that experience each Holy Week. By entering into the Passion narrative, a Christian hears God coming among us “for me.” She sees what happens when God assumes all the frailty and vulnerability of being human. By living as the image of God, Jesus reveals the depths of God’s love as well as the kind of life humans are meant to live. That entails standing for God’s truth in spite of every assault. Jesus confronts the authorities for neglecting their responsibility to serve those under them, the wealthy for not sharing their money with the poor, the privileged for ignoring the needs of the disadvantaged, and the powerful for practicing violence against the weak. This inevitably will eventually lead to being persecuted and even executed. The Passion Story expresses this irony of the Christian message: the One who expresses true humanity is judged an enemy of humanity.

The Passion Story captures this irony when it makes clear that Atonement is especially experienced in suffering. When someone shares my suffering, that person immediately enters into a deep relationship with me. In a real sense, we two become one, fully sharing ourselves. This involves not only taking on each other’s burdens, but also exchanging each other’s strengths. Christians talk of Christ sharing his Holy Spirit with them and pouring his love into their hearts.

This centrality of suffering is captured when we define Christian love as a compassion that shares the sufferings of another person. Compassion is redemptive, because it brings the creative change we have been describing in the Passion Story.

One effect of this change is the formation a new community, the Church that is aptly described as the Body of Christ. The Church continues Jesus’ ministry by participating in the ongoing narrative of God’s story.

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Kerry says:

    Amen! And thank you.

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