The Passion: the Lord’s last days

The week before Easter is an up and down of emotions: joy one minute, despair the next. Before Christians could begin to believe in their own resurrection, Jesus Christ had to be crucified. The Passion: an unforgettable week for the Lord.

The divine services of the New Apostolic Church in March will reflect the Passion of Christ. This is the time of year when Christians around the world remember the Man of Sorrows. At no other time of the year is Christian unity so evident as in the week leading up to Easter, Holy Week. Next to Christmas, Easter is the most important Christian festival. It illustrates what it means to be Christian.

The Passion of Jesus Christ: this an expression that needs to be explained. Without the cross there can be no heaven. The deep meaning of the gospel announced by Jesus Christ is that, ultimately, there is only one decision that has to be made: salvation or judgement! “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4: 13). This verse from the letter to the Hebrews illustrates the aspects of salvation and judgement. It clearly reveals the condition of mankind and calls us to account.

Jesus and Judas

There is anecdote concerning the origin of the The Last Supper, the painting by Leonardo da Vinci, that speaks to the point. Da Vinci had received the commission to create a big mural painting for the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan (Italy). Da Vinci did not have to look long to find appropriate faces, except for two of his subjects: he could find no one for Jesus or Judas. He studied hundreds of faces: the features of Jesus were to be peaceful and kind, and radiate warmth and tenderness. Those of Judas were to be streaked with slyness, malice, and cunning. Finally, he found a model for Jesus: a ferryman from Milan. Da Vinci painted him and paid him well for his services. Years later, he finally found a model for Judas: a man who had fallen on hard times. As the master was putting his last brushstrokes to this man’s portrait, the man’s eyes happened to fall on the portrait of Jesus. He jumped up and ran from the studio. Leonardo da Vinci knew immediately: the Christ of the wall mural was the same model as his Judas—only years later. In only a few years, “Jesus” had become “Judas”.

The same man in two different poses. Does this not sound familiar? Is this Dr Jekyll-and-Mister-Hyde syndrome not part of our human nature? Do we not all have to fight with our alter ego?

Richly endowed sinners

Before we get too philosophical: participation in the way of the cross of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice is a gift of God’s love to the sinner. It is up to us to unwrap it and treat it with a great deal of respect. Holy Communion especially, which was instituted by the Lord in the circle of His disciples shortly before His Passion, nourishes our life in Christ to this day. Holy Communion is “heavenly food”, through which the believer is strengthened on his path of faith and can resist the evil one.

And then we celebrate Palm Sunday. It reminds us that Jesus rode into Jerusalem amid cheering crowds. In Luke 19: 28, 36–38 it says: “When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road. … Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

How quickly did the cheering crowds not turn into an angry mob …

On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus. The Son of God brought this perfect expiatory sacrifice for us sinners under unspeakable suffering and excruciating pain: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19: 30).

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Peter Johanning
Divine service