Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Looking Forward to Christ's Passion

Some days, I feel as if the weight of my own sin is heavier on my heart than other days. Ash Wednesday is one of those days. This year, I have been contemplating my sins and Christ's passion earlier than usual. Right now, the Back Bay Chorale is gearing up for a performance of one of J.S. Bach's masterworks, the Saint John Passion. Unlike Bach's other passion, the Saint Matthew Passion, this one emphasizes the angry mob screaming, "Crucify!" and the underhanded betrayal by manipulative chief priests. It's very difficult to sing the turba choruses because I have to place myself in the shoes of the mob. Suddenly I become one of the ones in the garden coming with torches and weapons... I have to sing, "Give us Barabbas!" and "Crucify, crucify!" It makes me very uncomfortable, and at first, I couldn't figure out why.

Then at Monday's rehearsal, we sat down to discuss the controversial nature of the John Passion, and one of the basses in choir said something very insightful. He mentioned that he is uncomfortable singing it because he is reminded of the part of him that has the capacity to participate in a mob... and even to murder. I think he nailed it. There is still something in me that might do those things, given the right circumstances. Even though the sins I actually commit (or omit) aren't nearly as heinous as calling for an innocent man's torture and death, they still hurt others. Every time I hurt someone else, I grieve God's heart. And I betray my Savior, who came to redeem the very ones I hurt, and to teach me the way of love... which I conveniently ignore. For three hours each Monday, it's hard to live with myself. I think of all the ways I have hurt and let down both God and others, all the while narrating Jesus' suffering and death. It's hard enough to meditate on Christ's passion without layering my failures on as well. A friend recommended this video to me- it's the opening chorus to the John Passion set to footage from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (warning: the video is graphic and not for those with weak stomachs!) and it raised the hair on my neck.

Like the John Passion, this video ends with the crucifixion. Where is the hope in this journey toward the corss? The Good News, of course, is that God has forgiven our sins. But that can be hard to accept when we are burdened by sin. Another friend on Facebook wisely said, "Forgiveness is not what we struggle to achieve for ourselves. It's about what we accept. I say this from years of trying not to do this myself. It's not easy getting over the habit of thinking we can." Well, I'm a long way from getting to that point. Somehow I think that I can just be better somehow, and that in time, I can stop doing X and start doing Y. Here's where even more Good News comes in: that the Holy Spirit will transform our lives if only we open our hearts to God. The only way I can stop sinning and start doing what Jesus would do is for the Spirit to make me into a better person. It's a hard thing to ask for change, but if I really love others as I do myself, it's important to pray for transformation.

Lent is a time for transformation. Some people strive for transformation by giving up something or taking on a new spiritual practice during this time. This year, I have no extra time to add a practice- it's all I can do to maintain my current devotions. So I'm trying to do just one thing: to set aside my ego and open myself to the Spirit's work in my heart. Even in the painful times when I have to think about how Jesus was scourged and crucified, and when I have to contemplate my sins, I want to listen for the Spirit in my life. Sometimes I mourn with Mary, and sometimes I deny like Peter. But even in those moments, the Spirit is there with me because She never gives up on anyone. It's harder to adopt a practice that has no set time of day or week, and that is more about an inner posture than an outer habit. But I think it's time for a challenge.

What are you doing to observe Lent this year? How are you looking forward to the cross during these forty days in the wilderness with God?

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and well-written post. I look forward to seeing your concert.