Brent Merten is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Juneau, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. (Photo courtesy of Brent Merten)

Brent Merten is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Juneau, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. (Photo courtesy of Brent Merten)

Living and Growing: The passion of Christ

As an admitted word geek I often find the origin of English words to be fascinating. Take the word “passion,” for example. It’s a common word that we read, hear and use frequently in various forms. “His passion is the arts” someone might say of a person who loves attending the theater and concerts. “She’s passionate about early childhood education” would be a fitting description of a devoted preschool teacher.

“Passion” basically refers to a strong emotion. But what makes this word interesting (to me, anyway) is that it comes from a Greek word which means “to suffer.” The basic idea is that if someone is passionate about someone or something, their love is so strong that it virtually causes them to suffer because of it.

It’s hard to imagine anyone loving going to a play or teaching preschoolers enough to actually feel pain. However, the word “passion” accurately describes the love of Christ. He didn’t just have a strong emotion about the people of this world. His love for us led him to suffer more than we could ever imagine, as he took the sins of the world on himself and paid the full price for those sins with his death on the cross.

Twenty years ago, Mel Gibson directed a movie that gained a lot of attention. Called “The Passion of the Christ,” this movie explicitly portrayed the suffering Jesus experienced at his crucifixion. When I took a group of people from my church to watch this movie at the local theater I recall hearing many people in the audience gasping and sobbing at the scenes of horrific brutality against Jesus. Watching that movie was emotionally draining for me and many others.

While “The Passion of the Christ” vividly showed the awful physical suffering Jesus experienced as he was beaten and crucified, I feel the movie failed to depict adequately what caused our Savior the most intense suffering on that Friday we call “good.” St. Matthew writes, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” The thing that caused Jesus to suffer the most wasn’t the whip or the thorns or the nail. It was being completely cut off from his Heavenly Father. Even though Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as he died bearing the sins of the world he was abandoned by the Father, leaving him completely and utterly alone.

That is what we deserved. Sin cuts us off from God. Eternally. To consider spending a never-ending existence of torment alone and abandoned gives me chills. But Jesus took our sins on himself, and in our place was cut off from his Father. The holy Son of God took the unholiness of sinful humans that we might know his holiness, and even better, that we might enjoy a perfect home with our Holy Creator and never, ever be separated from him.

But Jesus’ wasn’t just passionate about our eternal future. His passionate love — love that led him to suffer more than words can describe — means that even now, as we live in this imperfect and often painful world, we are not alone, nor are we ever cut off from God and his forgiving love.

No matter how passionate we may be about an interest, a cause, or even our family, it doesn’t compare with the passion of Christ. His passion for us led to suffering of a kind we cannot begin to grasp. But his passion for us has led to peace and joy and hope that also goes beyond our ability to fully grasp.

• Brent Merten is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Juneau, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

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