Passion Sunday A (17 Apr 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
About Passion (While We Hail our King With Palm Branches)
“[T]he more we restrict the term death to its lowest and most neutral common denominator, its meaning in medical terms,” wrote a teacher of NT I knew, “the less will we be moved to think or sing about it. Only when we begin to think with Shakespeare about the many deaths created by fear | or with the Bible about the many kinds of dying or about our daily little deaths, will we be inclined to turn ‘passion into sound’ and ‘sound into passion.’ The more profound the passion, the more convincing the sound.”1
That teacher dove into J.S. Bach’s Matthew’s Passion. Bach’s passion was noticing what many fail to notice, as those in the arts tend to do, and giving it musical shape. We just hailed Jesus our King; Bach helped us notice more in his death because Bach interpreted the passion of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. With bible open, Bach penned notes and lyrics. He had something else open as well: his heart. That teacher I knew, who recognized that Bach was interpreting scripture, put it this way: Bach followed the pictures Matthew painted in words, “recording in music the impact of each episode on his mind.”2 I add, and heart, for not a mind alone interprets God’s word and shapes our responses.
Lent has prepared us to face our heart’s frenzy and fear; to see ourselves as we are at this season of our lives. If anyone has slogged through Lent, close it and do not turn back but make room in your heart for the most holy days of power ahead. If anyone began Lent late, you have not been disgraced: ask Jesus to help you admit what causes you to tremble and take energy from it and Jesus. If anyone has yet to begin Lent, you shall not be put to shame. Walk with Jesus, or just stand with him in one moment of his Passion. At every moment Jesus echoed Isaiah’s lyrics: The Lord God has given me a teacher’s tongue…the Lord God has opened my ear…the Lord God helps me….
Lent isn’t dry—we are. Lent has no dust—we do. Lent isn’t dangerous—we court danger. Lent has been a key to notice passion: of our suffering. Holy Week invites us to enter the passion of our Love and Savior and live as his faithful disciples.
- Paul Sevier Minear (†2007), Death Set to Music: Masterworks by Bach, Brahms, Penderecki, Bernstein (John Knox, 1987), p. 165.
- Paul Sevier Minear, “J.S. Bach’s Interpretation of Matthew’s Passion” Theology Today (30) 1973, pp. 243-55.. Minear was Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology Emeritus at The Divinity School, Yale University, and he paid close attention to the way Bach (and other artists) interpreted Scripture. He contributed to a symposium at Yale some years ago which focused on Bach’s “Matthew’s Passion.”