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“The Stature of Waiting: Holy Week and the Passion of Jesus”
By Dr. Phil Letizia
As we enter Holy Week 2023, it seems as if we have collectively returned to a sense of normalcy in our everyday lives. The disruption of the last few years caused by the global pandemic has rescinded and most of us I would dare say, have seen our regular routines fully return, or new routines now standing in their place. I have noticed in my own life that it appears I am now busier on this side of the pandemic than I was before. Which is a fascinating observation considering the whole world had to practice slowing down and cutting back. It is obvious that when given the option, our human nature drives us to run as fast as we can through life.
Holy Week is an invitation to swim against these currents. The time in which the Church calendar focuses our attention on the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, and his passion, death, and resurrection, if properly addressed, forces us into a different kind of posture. It is its own disruption. That is, if we will let it do its work.
A few years back I read a small book by W.H. Vanstone, called, The Stature of Waiting. Vanstone provides an intriguing look at the Passion of Jesus Christ, when he is “handed over into the hands of men.” After Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, he goes to pray. The gospel of Mark tells it this way:
“When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:40-42)
Vanstone points out that until this very moment, Jesus has been active in his life and ministry. He has gone where he has wanted to go. Done what he has wanted to do. He is acting on the world. But now, here, he is handed over into the hands of men. Into the hands of sinners. And from here, he will no longer be active, but passive. Instead of Jesus doing what he wills, the world will do what it wills to Jesus. Vanstone writes:
“In the earlier part of the Gospel Jesus speaks authoritatively, effectively, decisively, changing situations by His words, taking fishermen from their nets, casting out demons, stilling a storm, confounding critics, raising the dead. But after He has been handed over the emphasis falls on the fact that, for the most part, He does not speak: and when His words are always disregarded or ineffective or inconsequential or misunderstood… Jesus is no longer the one who does- He becomes the one who is done to.”
The Passion of Jesus Christ is his suffering. But in actuality, it is his being given over into the hands of mankind. It is his voluntary move from active to passive. It is his complete trust in the Father’s will and plan. During those excruciating hours, Jesus becomes the “patient.” Being done to by others. Being operated on by the world. And the world does its worst. Again, Vanstone writes:
“What happens in both Mark and John when Jesus is handed over is not that He passes from success to failure, from gain to loss or from pleasure to pain: it is that He passes from doing to receiving what others do, from working to waiting, from the role of subject to that of object and, in the proper sense of the phrase, from action to passion.”
What does this mean for Holy Week in 2023? Well, for one, it is clear that to follow Jesus into his passion and suffering, is to stop what we are currently doing and pay attention. It will certainly invite us to slow down and reassess the speed at which we are flying through our lives. Jesus’ passion is an invitation for us to wait and allow God to do his work in us. To become the patient. To wait and be a bit more passive in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Can we do it, is the question. Can we, for even a week or a few days, join Jesus in his waiting, in his passion, that we might fully rejoice with him in his resurrection.
Written by Dr. Phil Letizia.
Phil and his wife Jenny have been at Park Road Pres for almost 4 years. Phil serves as the Associate Pastor of Discipleship here and recently obtained a PhD in Practical Theology from the University of Aberdeen. To contact Phil, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org