Monday, March 19, 2012


The passion of the Head of the Church must be the passion of its members. 

But what was the passion of Christ? What was he passionate about? And why? 

And how are we to participate?

Christ died once for all for our salvation, on a particular date in human
history. His death, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews insists, is a
unique and unrepeatable event. But this event, like his incarnation and his
resurrection, which are also events in the stream of history, transcends
history: it is one day and every day. Every day is both Good Friday and Easter
Day, because Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are present to us every
day. It is hard to comprehend so much eternal reality in a single day, and it
is not surprising that the first Christians should, almost from the beginning,
have celebrated the mystery of the Lord’s passion on a particular day, the
weekly anniversary of his resurrection.Over time, an annual cycle of
commemoration was laid over the rhythm of the week. This provided the
Church with a way of meditating deeply on the successive episodes of
Christ’s saving life and death, from his conception in Mary’s womb, through
his death and resurrection, to his ascension to his place at the right hand of
the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit promised by him. Other kinds
of Christian commemoration have been added to the Christian year –
originally, those of the apostles and martyrs, who had in a distinctive way
witnessed to the passion of Christ.

The liturgical year thus provides a structure for the Church’s collective
memory, a way of consecrating our human experience of time in the
celebration of God’s work – in Christ and in human beings made holy
through Christ – a work which is both unrepeatably in time and
incomprehensibly beyond time. It asserts a Christian understanding of time
as a context of God’s grace, against the world’s purely functional reckoning
of time. This act of Christian remembering has proved, over time, to have an
extraordinary depth. Through the structuring of our Christian memory, the
past is able to come into our present, in a process of anamnesis (only weakly
translated by our English ‘remembrance’):

Paschal Lamb, thine Offering, finished
once for all when thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished
shall for evermore remain.
(G. H. Bourne)

This powerfully creative remembering has deep roots in Jewish tradition,
and especially in the Passover meal. The shared preparation and consumption
of this meal is a memorial action (zikkaron; cf Exodus 12.14 and 13.9), through
which God’s redemptive power in the past act of the Exodus can be freshly
experienced in the present.

The rhythm of the Church’s times and seasons also affects those who take
part in them. It is one of the primary ways in which Christians learn, and
are strengthened in their grasp of, the story of Christ – just as Jesus himself
was familiar with the Jewish festivals, and with the way that the annual
remembrance of Passover shaped the identity of the chosen people. One
of the essential features of this educative remembering is that we imagine
ourselves, in our act of worship, to experience events in the past as present
reality or future hope.We speak naturally at Advent of looking forward to
the birth of the Christ-child, and we experience the joy of his birth as a
present reality, though we know in our minds that it is an event in the past.

(Times and Seasons. London: Church House Publishing, 2006. 1.)

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