Talk about the Passion
Four or five times a year, I preach modest sermons from behind the modest podium of my local church.
At the close of each message, I exercise a familiar ritual in: “Let us pray,” followed by pastoral intercession. Then, a breaking of the bread, a lifting of the cup, a few words of invitation to the Lord’s table.
Every time I initiate communion, I say new words. The same table, same gluten-free bread, same red-violet juice poured into the same pair of cups. Yet it always looks new to me.
Depending on the text and its application, the other bread we receive that day, I find something fresh to behold and uphold. An act of remembering Christ crucified. Or an act of self-remembrance, reassuring ourselves of our spiritual station and Christian identity. An expression of unity, a moment of vouching for one another before God, a prayer for grace and fidelity—or simply the desire to desire those qualities, even a U2 lyric, personified:
One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other
One life, but we’re not the sameWe get to carry each other
In communion, we find all this—and so much more.
The table, with all its rites and dimensions, promises and opportunities, reminds me the best things in life, free or not, have more than one meaning. They withstand multitude of definitions, thriving at their intersection.
This goes against the grain of my youth-group upbringing. Our catchphrases and catechisms spoke to single-minded truth. All or nothing, absolute or out of bounds.
It kicks against the goads of the Reformed Christianity I nestled into as an adult. Within this tribe, precision jockeys for preeminence. Men and women spent and spending centuries hunched over the holy texts seeking clarity.
My need to accommodate multiple definitions arises from a thirst for beauty. None of my bones cry out in rebellion. I want no part in tearing down my childhood expressions of faith—or my current ones.
What I find myself longing for, daydreaming about more than anything, is space to revel in mystery. Beauty attends clarity; clarity serves beauty. Both, when properly handled, reveal that the God we love—and his story told to and through the world—measures far greater than we could ever imagine.
When I fight for a multiplicity of definition, I fight to bask in the bigness of God. To know his qualities and ways as both/and. Every definition holds water only as long as it balances with the others, so long as we stop ourselves short of asking a single concept to describe all the fullness of God.
The only truly balanced being in the universe—because he is Creator, not created—contains equal measures justice and mercy, wrath and grace, knowledge revealed and knowledge withheld.
It stands to reason, then, that we articulate God’s story a variety of ways, every narrative thread worthy of examination.
The Bible tells the tale of lost children and a good father, of a rescue mission, a royal wedding, equality and ethnic reconciliation, paradise lost and paradise recreated. Scripture speaks highly of power and strength, weakness and meekness, tenderness and passion.
That last virtue feels like a lost virtue. One we read out of the story, one I want to revive in my conversations and my worship. Said another way, we strip all the sex out of the Bible.
Not the actual fornication and consummation, of course. Most pastors, nearly all I’ve met, preach sexual ethics from the pages of Paul’s letters. Less, though still a significant number, review the story of David and Bathsheba. And a few souls of great faith dare flip to Song of Solomon.
But when we open our Bibles and find the call to draw near, we hear the attendant tune like the theme to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” God posing his appeal in a sing-song melody: “Won’t you please, won’t you please, please won’t you be my neighbor?”
In my ears, the Bible sounds more like a Sophie B. Hawkins siren song: “Damn, I wish I was your lover.”
Perhaps I need to feel fresh fire burning within me as I sit in a pew or sit before my Bible.
Perhaps I’m reading into the text all the glory and grace, ebb and flow, passion obscured and passion rekindled in thirteen years of sharing a name, a house, a bed with the same woman.
Perhaps I simply recognize how the many people, places, and things I give myself away to function like lovers. Riffing on C. S. Lewis and the qualitative difference between mudpies and a holiday at the sea, Derek Webb once wrote, “I am so easily satisfied, by the call of a lover so less wild.”
Whatever the impulse, the message hits home. Raw and reckless, the passion God possesses for the souls which make up his bride. He reveals himself in Hosea, winning back the Gomers of the world. Other prophets implore us to readjust our skirts and return to the one who loves us best. Jesus arrives on the scene as a groom, our betrothed, finalizing plans for a marriage and a life entwined.
We hesitate to call this what it is because it sounds cheap or crude, something blasphemous or beneath God. Of course, the passion and consummation express themselves spiritually, not materially. That I feel any need to restate the obvious reinforces our minds need the cleaning, not Scripture’s message.
When we find desire in any cultural good, we quickly twist it into something dirty, an exercise of power or lust, the quenching of an animal need. God’s passion never expresses itself in wicked or selfish ways. Far from impure, his fire pulls us close, then cleanses us, making us who we ought to be.
The Bible by one definition, then, is a love letter. A record of wooing. A promise of consummation. A song which should make us blush. A picture of passion properly directed.
And, I suppose if we are to love God and neighbor, it is Sophie B. Hawkins and Fred Rogers at the same time.
The table, the word, all of it, expressing all the faces and facets of God we can put into words, echoing truth we have yet to wrap our minds around. People of God should be people who pick up all these pieces and put them together, prioritizing some in one season, others in the next.
No clarity lost, no absolutes sacrificed, only mystery gained and infinity suggested. Talk about the passion. Talk about it all.