Derby Cathedral, evensong, 6 April 2014 (Lent 5), on these readings.
I have been here at the Cathedral for a month now. I spent some time this week studying job advertisements. They sound like this:
The ideal candidate will be able to clearly demonstrate successful experience of the position’s requirements, within an aligned environment. Engagement with stakeholders at the highest level within existing and potential customers, passion to deliver objectives, and strong integrity are essential. To have synergy with this role it is likely your experience will be aligned to ours.
And you don’t even get to sit at the right hand of Jesus in his kingdom, nor his left hand either. Not even if your mother fills in the application form. You get to be a Business Development Director in Leicester.
I have no ambition to be a Business Development Director in Leicester. I was reading job advertisements because I was interested in the way they talk about passion. That was one of 175 currently on the Guardian website, all looking for people with passion. It’s a word that’s very wide-ranging, and at the same time it’s very specific. You can have a passion for almost anything. The advertisements want people with a passion for literature, for search engine optimisation, for theatre, for customer service, for delivering objectives. There’s even one for someone – it could be you – who has a passion for packaging design and 3D problem solving and cosmetics. There’s someone out there.
But passion also means something very specific. It’s what we say when we’re talking about someone who’ll throw themselves into the work, who’s going to wake up at two in the morning thinking of better 3D cosmetics packaging, who’s going to do it heart and soul. We talk about it like that, very personally. Do it heart and soul. Eat, drink and sleep it. We say ‘passion’ when we talk about something that’s really got into a person, and also when it’s something we want to see radiating from the person, catching other people up into this passion. We see passion in the way people do what they have to do, what nobody else could do. We see them swept up in their passion for whatever it is, immersed in it and swept along by its force. Whatever it is they have to do, they’re carried along by it the way you might be swept up and carried along in a wave, in the tide of this passion.
I got that far and I thought ‘Tides of Passion must be the title of a Mills and Boon novel’, so I looked, and it is. But I haven’t read it. I don’t want to talk about Tides of Passion, I want to talk about Passiontide. Passiontide is the season of the church year that starts today and takes us to the Cross. The passion of Passiontide is different, but not completely different. It’s the same word, but the meanings of the word have branched off in different directions. If you have a passion for something it gets hold of you, it sweeps you along, it takes control of you. The passion of Passiontide is about Jesus being got hold of, being caught up in an unstoppable wave, being taken control of. It’s passive. It’s the story of what happens to Jesus: conspiracy against him, arrest, trial, abuse, execution. The people plotting against him get hold of him. The authorities take control of him. The soldiers march him away to the Cross.
But we’re still talking about the passion that is someone doing something heart and soul. And body.
Jesus is doing something that has to be done. He is doing what nobody else could do. He’s doing it in a way that catches other people, catches us, up in it. He’s not doing it by striding to the centre of the stage and making a great passionate dramatic speech. He’s not countering power with power. It’s not a war, it’s a transformation. A re-creation. And it’s as if he has to do this by going further and further into silence, nothingness, death. St Paul writes, trying to put this into words, ‘he became sin for us’. He takes on our sinfulness by taking it into himself, by letting this happen. He lets himself be carried along. Someone anoints him. Someone else sells information about him. Someone carries his cross. Someone else nails him up.
I want to go back, now, to the job advertisement.
The ideal candidate will be able to clearly demonstrate experience of the position’s requirements.
The position is the world, the human world. The requirements of the world are the distortions of humanity, the human tendency to get it wrong. He became sin for us.
Strong integrity is essential.
Pilate says to him, What is truth? Jesus stands before him. He has said already: I am the truth, and the way, and the life.
The candidate will have a passion to deliver.
A passion to deliver.
For this role your experience will be aligned to ours.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. His experience was aligned to ours, aligned in the cross. Therefore we have hope.