A Passion for Words
Written by Dane Miller
New York Disaster Response Program corps member
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When you graft, you take tissue from two similar specimens to form a new plant, retaining features of both. This possibility of synergistic growth is present in language too. Take the word grave: it suggests something serious, something that weighs down, gravity. It also suggests burial in the ground. Here words of French and Germanic root placed in relationship lend themselves to deeper meaning. We are weighed down when Jesus is laid in the grave.
Take the word cross: as a verb it suggests movement. It can mean movement against- in the Gospel Judas crosses Jesus – but it can also mean movement through one place to another. We cross a street, a river. As a noun, the cross is the implement of Jesus’ execution, but Jesus on the cross is also the story of movement from one kind of life to another. Here the roots of the word are the same, leading back to the Latin crux, which gives us crucifix, but also related to the French croiser/croix which gave us Crusade, another story of crossing.
Now take passion. One sense of the word refers to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, the other to something you love intensely. Except perhaps for sadists, we do not generally associate passion with suffering today, although that may have been more the original meaning. I have a passion for language and will gladly give up other things to pursue it, but would I suffer bodily for it? I am often troubled by the idea that God required Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice to expiate the sins of man. In my un-churched mind, this concept of deity is brutal, unforgiving, and cold. I don’t have a sense that the crucifixion was the only possible outcome, although it was undoubtedly how Jesus met his end. This difference of belief is enough for me to want to throw up my hands and walk away from the Church. I don’t think I’m alone. But then I return to the idea of passion as love. Jesus accepted his fate as an act of love; his very being was a manifestation of God’s love. As a man, he did what he thought was necessary not for his own gain but for the good of all mankind. We can argue until kingdom come about what this act means (and what right belief looks like), but I think we can agree that Jesus lived out his passion. I pray that we can all do the same.