Jeremiah 31.31-34 / Hebrews 5.5-10 / John 12.20-33
5th Sunday of Lent / Year B
I don’t know what sort of things you’re passionate about.
When I say passionate I mean that you feel gripped by them, unable to let them go – you want to spend lots of time doing them because they inspire and excite you or transport you away from everyday life.
Perhaps your passion is music, films, crafts, TV soaps, reading, DIY or gardening.
Or maybe you long to jump out of planes or trek through South America.
When we talk about passion these days we think about an intense desire, maybe even an irresistible force, something we really want to do or have, or a person we feel we can’t live without.
Often, when people don’t know what career they want to have they’re advised to follow their passion, on the grounds that if they really love something they’ll enjoy working in that area.
Passion, though, is one of those words that seems to have completely changed its meaning over time.
Its root is the Latin word patior, which means to suffer.
The word is also used to suggest the idea of being driven to suffer by some sort of force.
And it suggests the idea of being driven to take action where there is pain and suffering.
This is why we talk about the passion of Christ – his suffering on the Cross because of his desire to save all of us from the consequences of sin and bring us into relationship with God.
And today is traditionally known as Passion Sunday, the start of Passiontide, when the Church begins to look more closely at Jesus’ suffering during the last days of his earthly life and his death on the cross.
Yet, although it seems at first glance that the passion of Christ and what we call passion today are completely different, I think there’s still a link between the two.
When we’re truly and deeply passionate about something, or someone, we’ll do anything in pursuit of that passion.
We’ll go out of our way to follow it, even if it means working long hours or sacrificing other things, or even undergoing pain and suffering.
Think of ballet dancers, for example, some of whom will dance on with horrible pain and injuries in their feet in pursuit of their passion.
All of our Bible readings today contain passion in both the old sense of suffering and the modern sense of a strong desire.
In the reading from the book of Jeremiah we’re told that God’s law, the will of God as described in the Old Testament, will pass from the written word, from tablets and scrolls and paper and books, into our hearts, so that we can live it out naturally and easily, in closeness with God.
The promise is, says God, that he will write his law in our hearts.
And this promise comes from God’s suffering as he sees his people betray him again and again, and his strong desire to have a relationship with us despite all of that.
Then in the Hebrews reading we see Jesus described as a priest passionately praying to his Father on our behalf with tears and cries in his desire for us to be saved, and willing to accept suffering on our behalf.
And finally, we have our Gospel reading, in which Jesus talks passionately about his coming death, and how it will both bring about the victory of goodness and love over hatred and evil, and draw people to him.
Although Jesus is troubled he stands firm and faces suffering because of his love for us and his strong desire to win our salvation.
And it was this love, this all-consuming passion, that was the basis of Jesus’ life, and which led him to his own passion and death on that Good Friday.
It was this all-consuming love and passion that guided all that he said and did.
It drove his faith, and it led him in the will of God.
It wasn’t easy, and it lead to death, but his death and resurrection have made it possible for each one of us to share in the life of God.
And we hear in the Gospel that as disciples of Jesus we’re called to follow in his footsteps.
This means we too must have a passion for God that makes us willing to serve him, whatever the cost.
We must also have a passion for those around us that means we’re willing to love, help and serve others as Jesus would do.
The Bible is quite clear that, as Christians, our faith must be alive and active, and filled with passion.
The Christian life is not a passive thing, but must be a passionate thing.
Serving and following are active, not passive – they are things we must actively pursue as Christians.
And we do all of this so that God’s name may be glorified, so that his Kingdom may come and his will be done.
So that the seed of this old world may pass away and God may bring resurrection life to all of creation.
So that we can oppose all that seeks to hurt and destroy and hinder the purposes of God, for although Jesus has won the war against evil there are still battles to fight.
So that fullness of life in Christ can come.
So that all people may be drawn to Christ as he’s lifted up on the cross.
We can play our part in this great plan, in our great hope of faith, by living our Christian lives with passion in all that we do.
By being willing to face the consequences and the costs, just as Jesus was, in order that God may work in us and through us and in partnership with us to usher in the new life of his Kingdom to all people.
May Jesus’ passion, and the way he passionately led his life, inspire the whole of our lives, and may passion for Christ and for the coming Kingdom consume us and draw us ever closer to God.