Precisely 500 years ago this Lententide, Martin Luther was writing his “Meditation on Christ’s Passion” (It was ready for distribution early April, 1519). This was only two years after the 95 Theses were nailed to the Castle Church door, so Luther’s Lenten meditation is influenced by his early theology. It was common practice to meditate on the Passion of Christ, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do so, and, not surprisingly, more people seemed to get it wrong in that era than got it right. Luther provided spiritual guidance. As a result, we, even today, can benefit from the care with which Luther underscores some of the pitfalls Christians had fallen into: Enthusiasm, Self-Centeredness, Self-Righteousness, even “hatred for the Jews.”
With regard to the latter, Luther points out that some may have felt good heaping reproach on “Judas and the Jews,” but venting in that way was no substitute for actually meditating on Christ’s Passion. Others make a work out of meditating on Christ’s passion to the extent that they attempt, through enthusiastic and self-absorbed focus on Christ for the benefit it gives the person, individually, in terms of spiritual power. “They carry pictures and letters and booklets and crosses on their persons,” presumably as a testimony to their own piety.
“Some feel pity for Christ, lamenting and bewailing his innocence. They are like the women who followed Christ from Jerusalem and were chided and told by Christ that it would be better to weep for themselves and their children [Luke 23:27–28].” Bound up in an emotionalized approach to meditating on Christ’s Passion, the only fruit a Christian can obtain, is a fleeting experience. Faith is not feed by such feelings.
Luther begins his exhortation about the proper way to meditate on Christ’s Passion in Point 4 of his sermon/tractate. (available online at: http://www.lutheranmissiology.org/Luther%20Meditate%20Passion%20of%20Christ.pdf )
So as not to turn this article into a complete “spoiler,” I will just allow Luther to synopsize much of what he brilliantly details: “The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins.” This is not mere emotion-based experience; it is “theologized emotion,” if you will. Ultimately, true to form, (even in this, his early period,) Luther argues that the proper meditation on Christ’s Passion should lead the Christian through terror of sin, to love of the one who redeems us from sin. It is a pithy, powerful, insightful meditation on meditation. Check it out! Have a blessed Lent!