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Participating in the Passion of Christ

~ Reflecting and Praying with Him ~



On the night of His arrest, Christ “went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane...Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ ...Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping” (Matthew 26:36a, 38, 40a, NIV).

Jesus did this three times. We are told He prayed, all three times, the same words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (v. 39b). This record, of course, is only the gist of His prayer. We know these prayers were not short for “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:43-44, NIV).

Jesus’ sleeping disciples were not privy to those prayers. They did not fully participate in His passion at that time, as they eventually did. As His disciples today, we can too. Out of our love and unity, we feel compelled to.

Keeping watch with Jesus, what would we have heard pouring out of His anguished soul, overwhelmed to the point of death? Historically, we do not know. Spiritually, Scripture points vividly to the spirit of those passion prayers. Praying those prayers as though we were with Him in Gesthsemane pulls us deeply into His passionate heart. Christ prays those prayers through us to the Father. We welcome and embrace that with all our hearts. They really are our prayers, for He became one of us for our sakes.

To prayerfully and contemplatively participate in the passion of Christ, we confidently trust in the Hebrew psalter, the book of the Psalms. The New Testament quotes this book more frequently than all others, many psalm verses being prophetic of Christ’s feelings, thoughts and prayers.

Jesus “went with his disciples to...Gethsemane...and said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death...keep watch with me’...He found them sleeping...He fell down and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus may well have remembered and prayed these prophetic verses...

“My God, do not be far from me, for tribulation is near and there is no one to help (Ps. 22:11). O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (Ps. 109:1-5). The Christ in so many of His brothers and sisters pray this same prayer today. We still live His passion.

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am restoring  what I did not steal...I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me...You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for ones to grieve with me, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Ps. 69:1-4, 8-9, 19-21). Christ still thirsts through His needy brothers and sisters. We still live His passion and prayers. “You didn’t visit Me in prison, in the ghettos, on the streets lined with the homeless in cardboard box shelters...”

“Help me, O Yahweh my God; save me in accordance with your love. Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice. My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak (Ps. 109:26-29). We must “bless our enemies.” We must “love each other as I have loved you.”

[The Father responds:] “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet...You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:1b, 4b). We share in that priesthood. It requires total self-denial.

“You number and record my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle – are they not in your book? Then my enemies turn back to the day I cry out; this I know, for God is for me. In God whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, have I put my trust and confidant reliance; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? I am under your vows, O God; I will render praise to you and give you thank offerings. For you have delivered my life from death, yes, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life and of the living” (Ps. 56:8-13). Trust and confidant reliance is achieved only through self-denial and self-surrender to the Father, as the Christ exemplified. This is required to share in the passion of our Lord and Beloved. It is needed to just understand a little of it.

“The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:1-3). Through the house of Israel the Gospel (Good News of Redemption) was manifested to the entire world. God’s love is all-inclusive.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek Yahweh will praise him – may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to Yahweh, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to Yahweh and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him – those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about Yahweh the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it” (Ps. 22:24-31). Upon hearing the proclamation of the angel to Mary of God’s choice of her to conceive and give birth to His Incarnate the Christ, she responded with the wondrous affirmation, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said.” Jesus prayed His mother’s words, “Let it be done according to what you have decreed, according to your will, not mine.” This must be our affirmation as well, to the world now and to those yet to be born. The proclamation is “He has done it.”

“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ ...Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns’” (Luke 22:45-46, 52-53).

“’Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again’” (John 12:27-28). “Our Father who is in heaven, holy be your name...holy may it be through our walk and our talk.” Save us from this hour of suffering, persecution, tribulation? Only if it glorifies your name! If suffering, persecution and tribulation serves to glorify your name, so be it! “Let it be done according to your word.”

(The Father continues...) “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him my first born, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure” (Ps. 89:26-29). Let us exclaim with Christ to the Father, “You are my Father, my God, the Rock, my Savior”! Let us pray to the Father to include us in His Son’s inheritance, according to His covenant with us.

 “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7). Unless we pray the same, there is no redemption for us. His will is for us to embrace His redemptive gift, the Christ. And so we participate in the passion of Christ.

This is a glimpse of the sorrowful and triumphant passion of Christ, and our own since we are His brothers and sisters. We are beckoned to wake up, to consciously join Him, and to keep watch with Him forever.

Jesus was arrested and taken from Gethsemane, endured several court hearings, was beaten, humiliated, scurged with iron-tipped whips into disfigurement, had a wreath of thorny vines hammered into His skull, then sentenced to die by crucifixion.

Much ado has been made about Jesus’ final seven utterances while hanging on the cross, the subject of many sermons around the Good Friday observances. Mini-theologies even developed around the “Why have you forsaken me?” cry of Christ, explaining that God had to turn His eyes away from Christ because He couldn’t look upon sin, since Christ was “made sin for us.” It might sound like good exegesis, but it simply and blatantly ignores the multitude of Scripture references to God’s very conscious gaze upon and assessment of sin, His anger, pain and indignation at sin and the consequent forgiveness of it...and how He even converses with the devil himself, the embodiment of evil. “Where can I hide from you?...even if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” so declares Psalm 139. Of course, God is all-knowing and all-present, infinite...there isn’t a place where He is not, including sinful environments. And, “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”

I don’t believe the Father took His eyes off Jesus ever, not for one microsecond. Neither are we ever hidden from His gaze, in sin or in grace.

Even those mundane, physical sounding words of Jesus, “I thirst,” were declared by the apostle John to be a prayer from the psalter: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished (ended), said in fulfillment of the Scripture, ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28, Amplified Bible). The Scripture to which John was referring is Psalm 69:21: “They gave me also gall [poisonous and bitter] for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar (a soured wine) to drink” (AB). “A vessel (bowl) full of vinegar (a sour wine) was placed there. So they put a sponge soaked in the vinegar on [a stalk, reed] of hyssop and held it to His mouth” (John 19:29, AB). Christ still thirsts in our poor, imprisoned, afflicted and persecuted.

We do know Jesus prayed the psalms, as did His contemporaries. His first and last sentences on the cross are the first and last sentences of the great passion psalm, #22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v. 1)...he has done it [it is finished]” (v 31).

Is it too bold or presumptuous to suggest Jesus prayed that entire psalm while hanging on the cross? Is it wisdom to deny that He did? No doubt Jesus was very conscious of Psalm 22. Let’s follow it through...

“But I am a worm, and no man; I am the scorn of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6, AB). “And those who passed by spoke reproachfully and abusively and jeered at Him, wagging their heads...And the robbers who were crucified with Him also abused and reproached and made sport of Him in the same way” (Matthew 27:39, 44, AB). Christ is still scorned and despised by most of the people on this earth today, in name and in actions of violence and neglect toward each other.

“All who see me laugh at me and mock me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted and rolled himself on the Lord, that He would deliver him. Let Him deliver him, seeing that He delights in him!’” (Ps. 22:7-8, AB). “He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He cares for Him and will have Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43, AB). People still mock the Christ in others, saying "Why isn't your God taking away all this suffering and hardship?"

“For [like a pack of] dogs they have encompassed me; a company of evildoers has encircled me, they pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22:16, AB). “And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced [Zech. 12:10]’” (John 19:37, AB). Many today look and turn away and dismiss the wounded Christ among us. Many more don't even recognize Him Whom they have pierced again and again.

“They part my clothing among them and cast lots for my raiment (a long, shirt-like garment, a seamless undertunic)” (Ps. 22:18, AB). “Then the soldiers when they had crucified Jesus took His garments and made four parts, one share for each soldier, and also the tunic [the long shirt-like under-garment]. But the tunic was seamless, woven from the top throughout. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots to decide whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture, ‘They parted My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ So the soldiers did these things” (John 19:23-24, AB). Many in the body of Christ today continue to be exploited and stripped naked of the dignity, respect and livelihood due children of the Most High.

“I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise You” (Ps. 22:22, AB). “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brethren and tell them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:17, AB). “For both He Who sanctified – making men holy – and those who are sanctified all have one [Father]. For this reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, for He says, ‘I will declare Your [the Father’s] name to My brethren; in the midst of the (worshipping) congregation I will sing hymns of praise to You’” (Hebrews 2:11-12, AB). This is our calling and service to Christ in others.

“’Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. The crowd spoke up, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?’” (John 12:31-34, NIV). The Psalms, again, speak in response: “The Lord has sworn and will not revoke or change it: You are a priest forever, after the manner and order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4, AB, see also Hebrews 5:10, 7:11, 15, 21).

Given the Scripture rubrics and the apostle John’s confirmation that Jesus’ words from the cross were spoken “in fulfillment of the Scriptures” and prayed from the Scriptures, we can be confident that Jesus was prayerfully conscious of Psalm 22 as well as the entire psalter.

Jesus’ lifting “up from the earth” to “draw [call] all men [people] to myself” is a definitive reference to His crucifixion, as confirmed by the apostle John: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” We can also glean from Scripture an additional meaning, that Christ will call us to Him upon another lifting up from the earth, His ascension. He said that must be necessary in order for His Holy Spirit to be infused throughout the earth: “Do not cling to Me [here], for I have not yet ascended to My Father and your Father.” “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, NIV).

Take some time this week to spend an hour in passionate solitude. Visualize yourself alongside of Mary and John and the others at the feet of Jesus hanging on the cross. The need for imagining ends there, for there is no need to imagine what Jesus was pondering and praying. As He put Himself in our place, we can put ourselves in His place on that cross, for that is our place. All that keeps us separated from the Father was nailed to and bled from that cross in the Christ. In His place, our place, we pray Psalm 22 slowly, deliberately, conscious of every phrase and the passion infused in them. We feel the passion. We feel the forsakenness and the “it is done” and all in between. We feel the unity in Him and the transformation through Him. We learn to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul..." And so we yearn to participate in His redemptive passion.
 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
www.prayergear.com

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