I am giving a short workshop for a local congregation after worship this Sunday, Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. The title Passion comes from the suffering and death of Jesus during Holy Week (the week before Easter) and it begins this Sunday with the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Spoiler alert: So the story starts off on a high note with a parade featuring palm branches but ends with Jesus dead in a borrowed tomb.
It’s fairly easy to see where the title Palm Sunday comes from, but why passion? A passion is a strong, barely controllable emotion, so intense that it can actually make you suffer. Sometimes we suffer with difficult and harsh emotions, but even a pleasurable emotion can make us suffer. Remember when John Mellencamp sang about love that hurt so good? Sometimes that suffering comes from the fatigue of living something so intense. Sometimes the suffering is physical and sometimes mental or emotional.
Jesus suffered physical pain those last couple of days of his life, but he suffered more than that. He suffered betrayal, being mocked, and being tried and convicted and sentenced to a humiliating and public death. His passion was for us. Yes, I do mean that his suffering was for us, but I also mean that he loved humanity so much that he was willing to go through all this. I’m not saying he wanted to go through it. He did, after all, ask God to take this cup from him, but he didn’t run away or resist arrest.
Passion Sunday makes me think about what my own passions are. What do I feel so strongly, so intensely that I actually suffer for it? I believe that God has called us together to be the church in order to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I feel this intensely. I have experienced the power of God’s Spirit as it acts among the people of the church and those whose lives they touch. I have experienced it in my life and I want to share that with others.
But even when we truly believe in God’s power in the world, and even when we have experienced that power ourselves, it is often difficult to know specifically what God wants us to do, and where to do it, and how to go about it. That knowledge requires discernment.
Discernment simply means a perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It’s a way to figure out what God’s will is and how we might participate in it. That’s what we will be discussing and practicing this Sunday, this Passion Sunday.
In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul writes to the church, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”