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The Fifth Week
of Lent

The Approaching Passion

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, which marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, and the beginning of the week of his passion. This word comes from the Latin and means 'suffering'. The suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross has always been referred to as The Passion. In modern times, we have come to apply the word to any kind of strong feeling, or commitment, though more properly it describes a chosen suffering for some worthwhile thing.

We have lost this sense of the word, perhaps because there is so little of this kind of passion left in the western world. There is little we care enough about to really suffer for. I'm not saying there is no suffering—we are still prone to suffer ... but this is another matter. The root meaning of 'suffering' that we find in the word 'passion' occurs also in the related word, 'passive'. And though we don't associate passivity with pain, the passive person suffers as well. But this suffering comes from outside forces, and is the result of inactivity and lack of direction.

How different is the passion of Jesus: directed by God and willingly accepted. Jesus actively chose his path and the sufferings that followed. In Jesus we see not only the full depth of God's passion for us and the suffering that was a necessary part of it, but the full depth of one perfect human's passion for God: obedience that led all the way to death.

How do we respond to God's call to follow him? Are we passionate? Or passive? Both ways lead to suffering: if passionate, we actively choose God's way and follow Jesus obediently, perhaps suffering as he did; if passive, the suffering we experience is not connected to a willingly chosen path, and comes with the pain of being distant from him, out of his will; like being blown around by a storm with no port in sight. To walk with Jesus, who said, "take up your cross and follow me", we accept God's direction and choose to follow the way laid out for us. This is a path of certain passion (suffering), but also certain hope, because Easter always follows Lent.

Matthew 10.24-32, 38-39

(Jesus teaches his disciples)

"No pupil is greater than his teacher; no slave is greater than his master. So a pupil should be satisfied to become like his teacher, and a slave like his master. If the head of the family is called Beelzebul, the members of the family will be called even worse names! So do not be afraid of people. Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows! Those who declare publicly that they belong to me, I will do the same for them before my Father in heaven.
 
"Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it." (TEV)
Psalm 130

(A song for the ascent to Jerusalem)

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help. Hear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer. LORD, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.
 
I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word. I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn. O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love and an overflowing supply of salvation. He himself will free Israel from every kind of sin. (NLT)
Prayer

Lord, thank you for your passionate love for me, that you would die for me. And thank you for your passionate love for the Father, that you would obey him, even to death. Lord, I am so often harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd—How can I find my way unless you help me? Have mercy on me. Lead me Lord. Come, and give me the strength I need to follow you in doing the Father's will. Bless the time I give to you this week. Pour your blessing over me. Give me a passionate love equal to yours, so that I would be willing to endure all for the glory of Easter.

Practice

See the page on fasting for some important considerations before you modify your diet. A reminder: these are merely suggestions, drawn from the practices of various historical Christian traditions.

Ask God in prayer to help you know what is the right fast for you. It may be that you follow this practice strictly. It may be that you pick and choose from the suggestions. The main goal is to make room for God by not filling our stomachs and our time with the distractions we are used to. In the course of Lent, if you are following a fast of any kind, you are building up a healthy dependency on God

Pick a day or two this week to fast from a meal or more. Continue fasting from desserts and sweets (including refined sugar), red meats, poultry, alcohol, and strong caffeine drinks (you may substitute tea or some other milder drink if you get headaches when you quit coffee).

Consider eliminating fish so that your diet is meatless for the last two weeks. By the end of Passion week (that is, the end of next week ...), it will be suggested that you fast from all of the above and from dairy (milk and cheese), and fats and oils. You decide for yourself whether to do this strict fast for a few days next week, for the whole week, or not at all. As always, ask God to teach you what is right for you.

This will bring us to a rather stark diet. What's left to eat? Rice and beans, fruits, nuts, and grains, vegetables, potatoes, etc. Breads that are simply made (no oil or refined sugar) are very good. Bagels and pretzels are examples (the pretzel is actually a food invented for Lent: its name means "little arms" in German, and the shape is meant to be arms folded in prayer! Kids would probably enjoy making these on Palm Sunday. ...) You may eat foods that naturally contain sugar (fruits) or oils (nuts): just avoid adding oil, butter, or sugar to foods to make them richer.

For fasting from various media, continue the practices from last week and add to them if you can .... Cut back on, or eliminate, TV, the radio, the Internet, the computer, etc. And finally, whenever you have free time because you have given something up, be sure to give the time to God.

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