On Passion Sunday

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2021

We have come in the cycle of the Liturgy to the penultimate week before Great Easter, and the week prior to Holy Week, both of which encapsulate and make possible our participation in the most central realities of Christian identity. Here I refer to what the Church anciently has called the “Paschal Mystery”—Our Lord Jesus’s Passover from death to life: His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Entombment, Resurrection, and Ascension. Enfolded into the Paschal Mystery is the Last Supper in the Upper Room and Our Lord’s institution of two Sacraments—the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

But today we are in the penultimate week, which since 1979 and the introduction of the new Prayer Book has called “the Fifth Sunday in Lent,” but which traditionally is called (and in many quarters of the western Church still is) “Passion Sunday.” The traditional Lenten pattern is four Sundays (which culminates in Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) then the fifth (today) which is Passion Sunday, and then Holy Week—that’s Lent, which culminates itself with Easter which begins on Saturday in the Great Vigil and continues both into the Sunday as well as the next forty days until the Ascension, which reaches its culmination at the Coming of the Holy Ghost in Pentecost. Passion Sunday itself serves as a pivot point where our focus turns from our identity as a sinner (that is, our identity as people who are always in need of a savior) which is the first Lenten emphasis, to the second Lenten focus which is Our Lord and specifically His Passion.

To say all of this and to think on it all rather takes one’s breath away. These next weeks present to us one profound mystery after another—mystery upon mystery, mystery within mystery. It is in these next weeks that so many of the events, episodes, actions, and teachings of Jesus are encountered that truly help us to understand Paul’s emphasis that God also hath highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a name which is above every name—the holy Name Jesus, a name that means “saviour.”

Preparing us for the coming whirlwind of revelation is the purpose of Passion Sunday, and we see that even in our Collect: that through it all, we ask God that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found. And where must this be but upon Jesus, His Passion, His Cross? Everything of reality and the proper understanding of reality hinges upon our understanding, our interpretation, of Jesus, His Passion, and His Cross. So much so that Our Lord taught that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. It is so marvelous that Our Lord had such compassion upon us that He would present so profound a mystery in such an ordinary and accessible metaphor: for grains of wheat must die before these can be ground into flour to able to become the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. Our Lord constantly taught His disciples that in order for Him to enter into His glory he must first die: but here He shows us that the glory that comes after His death is a glory we receive in our bodies in the Eucharist, a glory that feeds us, emboldens us, and transforms us.

It was for this purpose that He came to the hour of His Passion—that His Name, the holy and unfathomable Name of Jesus would be glorified as the Name above all names. It was for this purpose that He took upon Him our vesture, our flesh—that His Name would be glorified. It was for this purpose that He gave His life and He would be lifted up from the earth on the Cross—that His Name would be glorified among those drawn to Him, that His glory would be made known each and every time His Holy Name is uttered, spoken, and prayed. And it was for this purpose that He suffered—to show the purpose of suffering to His people, the purpose of which is learning obedience: which means for us, learning how to listen to God in times of suffering, learning how to trust God in times of suffering, and learning how to praise God in times of suffering—and learning through our suffering how Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Homily: “On the Transfiguration and Falling in Love with Jesus

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018.

We have asked in our Collect that God, wonderfully transfigured in raiment white and glistening, grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in His beauty. It is a Collect that exemplifies the observation, that Collects concentrate an extraordinary amount of theology into a small devotional package, a package that consolidates the biblical revelation into prayer. This is a prayer that by faith we might see the beauty of God. This is beauty at a greater depth and significance that the physical aspects of Jesus. It is this depth of beauty that Saint Mary Magdalene surely perceived Our Lord when she sat at His feet and when she anointed Him with her oil of faith. Is this not why in our lives we choose to be Christians amid other possibilities—for those moments through our worship, our prayer, our service, Christ makes His beautiful Face apparent to us, a Face that turns darkness to light, and sorrow to joy?

It seems to be a pattern for two persons who fall in love that at some point during the courtship each sees in the other more than the eye can see. The beauty of the person takes on a deeper tone of radiance and of presence. They become, for each other, an everything. And this perception, both subjective but also very real, imprints on each person, and becomes the baseline for how each sees the other as the adventure of love gives way to the ordinary days of marital relationship. And then after the death of one, the surviving spouse maintains that image imprinted so long ago, and it even heightens to become the dominant way that person is remembered. Any photograph will bring that radiant image back immediately. Or even, just hearing the name spoken aloud.

Let this be how we begin to understand the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is described as yet more, yet let this be our baseline. Just as Moses was imprinted by the divine radiance of God shown to him on the mountain as he received the commandments of creation, the commandments of relationship with God, Saints Peter, James and John were imprinted with the glory of heaven, the glory of Jesus Himself, whose true nature is also heavenly. In Him, everything is concentrated, everything is focused. His sacred Heart is the heart of Being, of all of reality. He who had performed miracles of healing and feeding, Himself is the true miracle, indeed the primordial miracle. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses of His majesty, and heard the thunder of the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was the true Isaac, Jesus was the true Lamb, Jesus was the true suffering servant. It is no small detail that in each of the Evangelists’ telling, the Transfiguration only comes after Jesus had described both His coming Passion and the conditions of true discipleship, of taking up of the cross.

The three disciples, then, fell in love with Jesus. The Transfiguration is the moment of transition from the disciples’ acquaintance with the human Jesus to their faith in the same Jesus as the Christ.[1] The depth of this transition did not begin to be realized until Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected to the Right Hand of His Father. But it began here—began as they witnessed firsthand the glory of this human man who teaching them that true love is not basking in the radiance of being, but giving one’s life for others. Jesus could have, one might suppose, chosen to be assumed into heaven at this moment of glistening glory. He could have passed from that mountain to His Father’s presence in the sight of the three disciples. But that would not have been the Christ we worship, if He had sent His disciples down to face something that He Himself would not face.[2]

That prayer on the mountain was not a prayer for escape from pain, but a prayer that brought to His mind and soul and will the complete acceptance of all that was hidden in the dark sea of the Passion. As the Church forever wrestles with the Cross, and tries to make the Cross the center of our reality, let us always thank God that through the devastation of the Cross, through its cloud of suffering, through the crown of thorns shines a Face, a Face that is divine. As we enter into the cloud of Christ’s pain we enter into the light of His love.[3]

[1] cf. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, XII.48.xvi-xvii.
[2] cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Tuesday after Trinity VIII.”
[3] Ibid. And cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Wednesday after Trinity VIII.”