Tuesday, June 2, 2009

4-1-2007: Palm Sunday (C)

Luke 19:28-40//saiah 50:4-7/Psalm 22/Philippians 2:6-11/Luke 22:14-23
There’s a lovely and revealing line in the old Irish ballad “Farewell My Derry Love” about one man’s memories of a former lover, reminiscing about how they once walked hand in hand in the lovers’ rain when passion graced their forms. Merging passion and grace may seem irreverent to the more pious among us, especially when reflecting on the Lord’s Passion this Palm Sunday -- but English speakers have long maintained the dual meaning of the word passion as bespeaking both erotic love and redemptive suffering.

It’s no accident that movies are judged un-viewable according to the level of both their erotic and their violent content – it seems an appeal to the visceral in order to convey meaning should be circumspect. So in the realm of religion is it correct, permissible, proper to assert that both bloody suffering and erotic love can be conduits of divine grace? In Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten Message he wrote that “…eros is part of the very heart of God” maintaining with the mysterious Pseudo-Dionysius of the fifth century that “eros is that force which does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved.” While disinterested charity (agape) may be a lofty ideal, it’s passion (eros) which fires the soul and, for a lack of a better phrase, turns us on. What the events of Holy Week point out is that love cannot be contained, or judged futile, when it finds its expression in passion as distinct from charity.

In today’s famous second reading from Philippians there’s a hint why this must be so. Because, if it is indeed true that the invisible God chose to become fully human, then grace cannot be limited to the expression of the intellect alone but must spill over into the sensual as well. Christ emptied himself of divinity, the passage states, and took the form of a slave, making himself susceptible to the vagaries of suffering as well as love. We seem to have no problem accepting that Jesus suffered physically (though Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ can still make us squirm) but we find it difficult in accepting that divine love has an erotic element.

But that, perhaps, more reflects our own prudishness than God’s. For he seems to have a surprising lack of prudence when it comes to love, suggesting that love -- of whatever variety – always conveys the divine.

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