“Why do we put ourselves through this dramatic reading of the passion gospel? Partly because it gives us a way to acknowledge, together, the dark side of religion, the dark side of politics, the dark side of humanity. And if we are inclined to blame the evils of the world on institutions, or on other people, that is a signal to us of how much we need the other gift this dramatic reading offers us, a way for each of us to acknowledge the dark side of our own self.
Also, we go through the dramatic reading of the passion gospel because we all suffer. The gift this dramatic reading of the passion gospel offers us is a way to deal with the suffering and pain we feel. This is of tremendous importance in our lives. The theologian Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. It is first an ordinary wound before it can become a sacred wound. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.”
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If your religion is not showing you how to transform your pain, it is junk religion. It is no surprise that a crucified man became the central symbol of Christianity.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter—because we will be wounded. That is a given. All suffering is potentially redemptive, all wounds are potentially sacred wounds. It depends on what you do with them. Can you find God in them or not?
If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down, and the second half of our lives will, quite frankly, be small and silly.”
Until I came across this passage, I had never thought of defining suffering as “whenever you are not in control” but I think Rohr is onto something here. I have the sense that this is what makes dealing with death so difficult, whether it is our own death or the death of someone we care about, because death brings us face to face with the reality that we are not in control.
We see in the passion narrative all the ways that people want to control the situation, the ways they want to control each other, the way they want to control Jesus. We see the ways they fear the loss of control, and the ways that pushes them to inflict their control on others.
We see the ways that Jesus steps into suffering, steps into giving up control. Jesus chooses to do what we fear most, what we try so desperately to avoid.
What do we do with the dark side of ourselves? Deny it, hide it, avoid it, project it onto others, and of course, try to force it to submit to our control, despite the fact that the more controlling we become, the more it sneaks out of our grip.
Jesus is not afraid of our dark side. Jesus is not afraid of the loss of control. Jesus enters the pain, enters the death, enters the darkness. God not only sees our dark side, God accepts it, and even, in a way, embraces it.
Richard Rohr writes, “I hope that throughout this book I can somehow speak, if possible, both to your head and to your heart, and to leave you in that in-between space, where you are not too much in control—and God can be.” Perhaps that is the goal of much of our faith, to listen with both our head and our heart, and to be in that in-between space, where we are not too much in control—and God can be.
We enact this drama in church as a way of finding what is sacred in the suffering. The more I can let go of the delusion “I should be in control” the more I am freed to discover God.”