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.Philippians 2:5-6
If you want to be reminded of what today, and this week that we call “Holy,” is all about, the best place to turn might just be Philippians 2:5-11. It is read every year on this Sunday that we observe as the Sunday of the Passion and Palm Sunday. And it offers a wonderful overview of all that Jesus did for us, that we give thanks for this week. In this short passage, we can see everything that we will experience this week, gathered together in this beautiful, ancient hymn, quoted by Paul in this letter. So, let me walk us through this passage, looking at what it says to us about Jesus and what we remember him doing for us this Holy Week.
The passage in Philippians begins with this “divine kenosis,” this reminder that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity for us. This is a powerful way of thinking about Christmas and the incarnation, isn’t it? Jesus emptying himself of his divinity. For us. Though he was in the form of God, becoming human, for us. Is there a more amazing gift than this? Think of all the sacrifices that have been made throughout humanity’s history, and you won’t find one greater than God’s own Son becoming one of us.
And because God’s Son became one of us, he knows what it is like to live this life, all the struggles and joys and heartaches. He knows it all. As Hebrews puts it,
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:15-16
We can do this because Jesus became one of us. But he was not finished. After emptying himself of his divinity, and becoming one of us, he took the form of a slave, this passage tells us. Not just human like us, but a servant to us. Because the son of man came not to be served but to serve.
We will be reminded of this great gift again this Thursday, when we hear in our gospel the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The act of a servant, done by God’s Son. And to show us what it means to love, to truly love. Jesus humbled himself, serving us, even stooping to wash our feet.
But even then, Jesus was not finished. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. The great sacrifice that we remember today, and that we will remember this Friday as well, when we gather on good Friday to commemorate his death for us.
Not only did he become human, emptying himself of his divinity, but he allowed other humans to ridicule him, to torture him, and to kill him in the most shameful way possible. All for us. No greater love has been shown us, truly, nor could there be greater love ever shown, than what Jesus did for us.
From divinity to humanity, from being served to serving, and from life to death. All for us. Now, he is finished. It is finished, as Jesus would say on the cross.
But God was not finished, nor is this beautiful passage finished. Not at all. For after doing all of this for us, God does something for Jesus, highly exalting him, and giving 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.
This, too, we will remember when we gather with joy next Sunday, to celebrate the miraculous way in which God exalted Jesus. Raising him to life, to eternal glory. No longer humbled, but exalted. No longer dead, but alive. No longer merely in human likeness, but in heavenly glory. The lamb who died for the sins of the world, now hailed as our victor and our king, our Lord and our God.
Even today, we remember what is to come next Sunday. Even as we hear and contemplate his suffering and death, his passion, we do not forget what is to come. We exalt Jesus, praising the name that is above every name, not just because he is God’s Son, but because he chose to be Mary’s son, too. He gave it all up for us. How can we help but join with all creation in confessing that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?
An important aspect of this day – the Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday – is to read the account of Jesus’ suffering and death, and I encourage everyone to do this, to read this story, and to let this story speak to you personally.
I take guidance in this from Martin Luther’s famous writing, “How to Meditate on the Passion of Christ.” He reminds us that we meditate on the passion of Christ best when we “deeply believe, and never doubt, that in fact you are the one who killed Christ. Your sins did this to Him.” That is hard to think about, but it’s true. And we contemplate this story in the best way when we remember that we are the reason Jesus suffered and died.
But Luther goes on to share the benefit of our doing this. He writes this:
“when the day comes that sickness and sorrow weigh you down, think how little it matters compared to the thorns and nails of Christ … If you have to do something you don’t want, or can’t do something you want to do, think about how Christ was led about by others, tied up as a prisoner. Does pride attack you? Look at how your Lord was mocked and disgraced along with murderers … If any trouble or adversity trouble your body or soul, take heart!”
Luther reminds us, in other words, that meditating on the passion of Christ can change how we approach life, in almost every conceivable way. But Luther goes on to remind us of something else that is very important. He says that after we have really thought about what Jesus did for us; after it has changed our hearts and opened them to Christ; then here is what we need to do:
“Stop looking at Christ’s sufferings any longer. They have already done their work … Press forward through all difficulties and see His friendly heart. Look how full of love God’s heart is for you. It was this love that moved Him to bear the heavy load of your conscience and sin. If you do this, your heart will be sweetly loving toward Him. The assurance of your faith will be stronger … This is how a person is truly born again in God.”
That is what meditating on the passion of Christ can do. And that is what entering into the great events remembered this week can do. Being reminded that Jesus emptied himself for us fills us again with the love of Christ. Being reminded that Jesus suffered for us makes our sufferings easier to bear. Being reminded that Jesus died for us gives us a new outlook on life. And, finally, being reminded next Sunday that Jesus was raised from the dead gives us a faith and a hope and a joy that nothing in this world can threaten.
So, I invite you to open your heart to this reading of the passion, and to all that awaits us this week. Empty yourself into these things, and have your hearts made full.
Here is a link to the Passion of Our Lord according to Mark, Mark 15:1-47.