The line in the prayer intrigues me. “May your passion and death be my strength and life.” (David Flemming) Is it? Is his passion and death my strength and life? I know a little of the mystery of how his death gives me life. But how, in this moment, is Jesus’ struggle in the garden and on the cross my strength?
Perhaps this year I’m experiencing it first the other way around, how a certain understanding of Lent saps strength. For five months now, I’ve prayed, more or less regularly, through the Celebration of Common Prayer. During Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and ordinary time, the praying of the psalms and prayers and the systematic reading of Scripture from Old and New Testaments has provided a center to return to, a stability in the midst of a changing world. Several times a day I have been brought back to the certainty of the Rock which is higher than I, and I have leaned in, breathed deep of His bigness, relaxed into His love. But the prayers for Lent are feeling heavy, the words underlaid by the sense that we earn our forgiveness through “worthily lamenting our sins.” It puts the focus on me, and I’m sick of looking at me, tired of trying to be perfect myself. It misses the point of the gospel.
We are invited to grieve in Lent, as the first disciples were asked to grieve with their Friend. “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” (Matt 26:38) But we grieve not to earn forgiveness, but for love of our Saviour, whom we see suffering and dying for us to freely give us forgiveness. We do not “put on” the grief; it arises within us as we watch the suffering of the one we love. And, for us who grieve now for his sufferings and our sins that caused them, as true as the grief is, it is held and filled, too, with a deep gratefulness and even joy, for immediately before Jesus called his friends to be with him in his grief, he spoke the words of completion and hope which we still celebrate. “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:27-29).
I watch as the God-man throws himself on the ground in agony, grieving so deeply he feels it might kill him. I watch as he stays, wrestling with His Father until He is enabled to surrender. . . for love of me! Is it any wonder that we call his sufferings his Passion? In this his Passion becomes my strength, for I see in his sufferings the extent of his love, and his perfect love casts out my fear, and isn’t it fear that always makes us weakest, and love strongest?
Jesus, during these weeks of Lent as I sit with you in the garden and try to stay awake,
as I seek to follow you to the cross and find myself running away when I should be clinging closer,
may your passion and death be my strength and life.
May your love enter more deeply into the broken and fearful parts of my heart,
and may I learn to trust the love that would suffer like this for me.