Phillipians 2: 1-13
This is certainly a day of unbridled emotion. The crowds go wild! From the cheering and the waving of palm branches, crowds cheering and loving up Jesus as King to the somber days of his passion, the final days for him on earth, something had to happen to Jesus. Something internally I mean. He can’t just go from the ultimate high to the lowest of lows without some sort of change within him.
You see on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday we tend to focus on the activities of the week, what Jesus did and what others did for him or to him. But how must he have felt? What did he do to prepare himself within his psyche and soul for what he was about to go through in the coming days?
Ironically that is the same question before us today. How will we prepare ourselves to walk with Jesus this week? Will we desert him or stick with it and stay by him as he endures the humiliation, scorn, and brutality? This short meditation today, based on Philippians, will help us to make that transition from the festive branches to the splintered cross. Because skibbl’ing from Palm Sunday to Easter? Well anyone can do that and, I know, most people do. But going from the parade to the passion and understanding its implication and impact on your soul, well that’s something else. Hear now the words of the Apostle Paul in the second chapter of Philippians.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This passage and what Palm Sunday is about is a $5 seminary word, kenosis. Kenosis is Greek and it is not a word that is translatable and yet it is at the heart of our Christian faith. At best, we understand it as ‘emptiness’ but the deeper significance for our purposes is that it communicates self-emptying and in this passage it is the self-emptying that Christ offers of himself this week and on the cross. Holy Week forces us to confront kenosis. His and ours. We can embrace it or we can shy away from it.
Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God but not equal to God. Therein of itself begins the process of kenosis. Nowhere in the four Gospels does Jesus point to himself as God rather he humbles himself towards God. Palm Sunday would be so easy to understand if Jesus came into Jerusalem on that sunny, festive day with his chest all puffed out preparing himself to best Herod. I think that’s kind of the take we all have of this day. But he didn’t. He came in on a dusty donkey so unking-like.
He knew who’s he was, in whose image he was made but he didn’t go around shouting it out. In fact he acted quite differently. He emptied himself taking the form of a slave or rather he became fully human. He humbled himself and therein lays fulfillment of his power and glory. It’s counterintuitive I know. But so is much of Christianity remember? To be blessed, be a blessing to others. To receive love-give love, to lead-be a servant, to be first-be last. It’s this counter-intuitivism that undergirds and motivates our ministry and following the ways of Jesus. It’s a huge helping of humble pie!
If you think about it, so many before us have sought way of humility, it’s not impossible. Nelson Mandela, Neil Armstrong, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Captain Sullenberger to these folks came glory not because they sought it out or even cared about it but because they were obedient to their belief and worked hard at their calling doing what they knew was right and God-pleasing.
Jesus too was obedient to God and emptied himself into human form and died on the cross and in that moment God exalted him, every knee shall bow. How may we empty ourselves so that God might fill us? We are asked to walk the ways of Christ in this world especially this coming sacred and holy week.
What things might you do to humble yourself as Christ humbled himself? If you think hard enough you will find that there are many ways that you can empty yourself of your pride, your ego, your need to be the best or the greatest. How about beginning with something simple – thinking the best of others, forgiving them unconditionally? Or maybe praying for your enemies? Now that’s a humbling experience. Maybe asking God for help to become a peacemaker? Heaven knows our world is aching for peace right now and there are so many that are in need of the hand of love.
Humbling yourself is to trust with all of your heart that amidst the turmoil of this day, God will show us the way. We have been beleaguered with death this week. Whatever you think, whatever you believe, you cannot deny the fact that death is death. Is anyone less dead whether it comes from chemicals or missiles being launched, and that people are dying? Humbling yourself is not powerlessness, it is getting out of your own way to see clear the ethical mandates of God and acting upon them. This is what leads to greatness and walking in peace is the way of Christ. He humbled himself and so must we.
There is a lot ahead of us this week. Just as soon as the parade ends the betrayal begins. Public memory is short but ours needn’t be. Jesus will humble himself over and over again until he reigns with glory on the cross. Counterintuitive remember? Come, let’s get now to Jerusalem.