Saturday, March 31, 2012

Palm Sunday

Phil. 2:5-11 * Matt. 27:1-54

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus

In a rather unhappy conversation with a man who aspired to be a priest, I asked the question, “What is it that you want?” He answered me, “I want to be a priest; in fact, I want to be a bishop.” He even said, “Isn’t it right to want to get to the top of your field?” I told him that he should forget the whole idea of Holy Orders for himself. I said I would not help him with it at all. I went on to explain to him that this is not about ambition. Every priest, including the Archbishop, is forever a deacon, that is, a servant. He said that he had never heard that before. Had he not read what Saint Paul tells us? “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In fact, that is for everyone.

The passage we heard in the Epistle appointed for Palm Sunday, the great Christological passage in Philippians, has been the subject of very important, indeed necessary, theological writing and teaching since the earliest times. In no uncertain terms it teaches us that Jesus Christ is equal to God, that is, by His very nature He is God; as the Creed says, “Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (homousion) with the Father.” And, just as St. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” St. Paul tells us that this Person, equal to God, was “found in fashion (σχῆμα) as a man.” This passage tells us what John told us: “And the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh.”

And, it goes on to tell how He emptied Himself, which means that He humbled Himself. He remained equal to God, and is equal to the Father as God, but nonetheless took upon Him the form of a servant. And, as a servant He “went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil. (Acts 10: 38)” Above all, in that role of a servant He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Important as the theological meaning to this whole passage is, the Apostle wrote it for a pastoral reason that included that same call Jesus had made to everyone who would be one of His disciples:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26)”

As we begin Holy Week, we need to hear this call. When I consider the damage that has been done to the Continuing Church, I know that much of that damage was from men who wanted to slice off a portion of the Church in order to rule over something. They were not servants in their hearts.

When the Lord told His disciples that He was going to the cross before entering into glory by His resurrection, it was the same St. Peter, who had only just said his great confession, who took the Lord aside and tried to talk Him out of it. One minute earlier, Peter was told that he was blessed, because flesh and blood had not revealed to him that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Father had revealed this to him. Jesus then gave a new meaning to Simon’s nickname, Peter, the Rock upon which Christ would build His Church (a special calling that Peter would later fulfill in the early chapters of the Book of Acts). But, now Jesus corrects Peter for speaking the devil’s words.

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (vss.21-24)”

Well, that only goes to show that Peter was not yet ready, and he would not be ready until he had seen the risen Lord, and until he was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He had not yet learned to have the mind of Jesus in him. He had not yet learned the meaning of the cross.

And, we see that ignorance of that way, the way of Christ’s cross, made even this blessed man a mouthpiece of Satan; this same man who had been given the most important of revelations directly by God the Father. He had been given the revelation of Christ’s glory, but he needed to learn the way of Christ’s cross. Jesus resists Peter’s words, of dissuasion from the cross, in a way that is reminiscent of the temptations after His forty day fast in the wilderness.

Whatever your personal opinion may be of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, it does show the real horror to which the Lord submitted Himself. It is consistent with Scripture and informed by archaeology and history. Roman “justice” was that cruel. The soldiers did get their fun by crowning the Lord with thorns, beating Him and mocking Him after a near fatal scourging that would have killed a weaker man. The theory of Biblical interpretation upon which the movie was based seems to have gone over the heads of many critics, especially over the heads of those who thought it portrayed the Lord as weak or helpless.

From the first scene in Gethsemane, the devil is trying to talk the Lord into refusing the death of the cross, and the burden of carrying the full weight of human sin. It shows a contest, a wrestling match, between the Lord and Satan. When the Lord, in the garden, says to the Father, “not my will, but thine be done,” the moon goes behind a cloud. If the Lord is willing to submit Himself to the power of evil men, then the devil is going to make sure it is as painful as possible, to tempt Him. Recall the words that were flung at Him when He was on the cross:

“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matt. 27:40-42)”

In fact, the movie was all about Christus Rex, or Christus Victor, that is, that on the cross Jesus was still in complete control as King of kings, and by His death Jesus won the victory.

Listen to the words Jesus spoke:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matt. 26:51-54)

And this:
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17,18)”

Why did Jesus make His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? What is the real reason for His words? “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matt. 26:39,42)” We know from other occasions that Christ spoke prayers so that others could learn from them, saying when He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 11:42)”

This is all about why the Lord would so willingly fulfill the Scriptures about the Suffering Servant of YHVH (Isaiah 52:13-53:12): Because without Christ’s cross the will of God is not possible. That gracious will by which we, lost in sin and death, could be saved. “If it be possible,” said Jesus in the Garden. If what be possible? If it were possible that we could be forgiven, that the sins of the world could be taken away—for they could not be taken away unless Jesus gave Himself as the Lamb of God. His prayer in the Garden was not a moment of fear (he expressed no fear, but only sorrow). He did not pray to be spared: In fact, the effect of His words was very much the opposite: “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… thy will be done.”

He willingly drank the cup of sorrow. And, about that prayer in Gethsemane, He said it for our sake. We need to know that only by His cross, only by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, was the curse and burden of sin carried away; and that it could not be carried away by any other means. Could God forgive and justify sinners without the cross? No; for He would then be neither just nor holy (Rom. 3:26). Could God then destroy the human race? No, “for God so loved the world…” For our sakes, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father who loved us, Who gave His own Son for us (“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom. 8:32”).

Jesus was Christus Rex on the tree. And he was Christus Victor by His death. In all of this, He also shows us the way to live. If the One Who is equal to God could “humble Himself to behold the things which are in heaven in earth (Psalm 113: 6),” so much so that He “took upon Him the form of a servant,” just who is any one of us? Are you too good to be a servant? Am I? Is anyone here willing to claim a station, in this world, greater than that of God the Son? He became a servant, the Suffering Servant.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.


RC Cola said...

I like your introductory story. It reminds me of my old classmates in the RCC seminary. 18 year olds would practice signing their names, "XXX Cardinal YYYY". One even told me that when he became bishop he would make my life miserable. So I it him in the head with a pool cue and we became friends. (He got the point and never said anything like that again. In hindsight, I could have chosen a gentler method.)
In my case, I always hoped for a parish in the middle of nowhere, far from the chancery and politics. Even that is a little warped; one doesn't become a priest just to be left alone to fen for himself.
The real eye-opener was working at a nursing home as my pastoral assignment. It was difficult, at times heart-breaking, and quite possibly the only meaningful thing I've ever done in my life. If being a priest means completely losing yourself for the sake of your flock, sign me up.

Canon Tallis said...

This was, again, entirely to the point. You begin your ministry by becoming a servant and every step, seemingly up, is and is supposed to be an increased commitment to service and servant hood. But it should not surprise us because the royal title of Israel was "Servant (slave) of the Lord."

luan said...

No matter what we are, as long as we our serving God -- we are all in the same level as a deacon. But how can we measure our faith in him? Thanks for sharing this, I enjoy reading it.

Amy from taille des rosiers