Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whether we call it “Palm Sunday” or “Passion Sunday,” Jesus’ entrance and welcome into the Holy City of Jerusalem had a very earthly and human dimension to it, even if Jesus was being greeted as royalty, being welcomed as a King.
Jesus riding in on that colt; people spreading their cloaks before him; those branches cut from the fields in His honor; people shouting their praises – but even if it was an exciting and stirring event, it was also quite earthly and mundane, coming up from the peasants, arising from the common people.
As dramatic as that parade may have been, it arose out of the human circumstance and worldly situation of Roman Empire military oppression and dominance. Yes, the people all shouted, “Hosanna!” – “Save us!” – But this was a cry rooted in earthly circumstance, and hoping for an earthly solution.
Yes, these were religious people, but, for the most part, they were welcoming Jesus because they were looking for rescue from their earthly predicament and rescue from their personal, societal, and national suffering.
The contrast to this earthly emphasis comes in our Second Reading today, from Philippians. This passage describes, in universal and even cosmic terms, a much larger dimension of that very earthbound event that we begin to celebrate on this first day of Holy Week, which will carry us to:
Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper; to the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross on Good Friday; to the Great Vigil of Easter; and to the joy of Christ’s Resurrection victory over sin, evil, and death on Easter Sunday.
What begins today, with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, had its roots much earlier, even before Creation. What did happen? Just who was this Jesus, this Jesus Christ whom we hear about, whom we read about? What is going on in these events leading up to, and beyond, the Cross and Empty Tomb?
Jesus was, at least in the beginning, in the very form of God, somehow contained within, the very essence of, God. This is what today’s Second Reading tells us. And as the opening of the Gospel of John tells us, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1).
This Jesus, this Christ, was not “just” a man, born of a woman – though, make no mistake about it, he was that. No, in the beginning – this scripture passage, I think, implies even before the beginning – he was “in the form” of God.
He was a part of, bound up in, God’s self; he was what God is. He was, in every sense, God’s equal. And yet, as the passage goes on to say, he did not regard this equality with God as “something to be exploited” (Philippians 2:6).
Jesus was “with God” and “was God.” Jesus was “in the form of God” and had “equality” with God. As we’ll say in the Creed today, “he was of one being with the Father” (Nicene Creed). And while it’s true that all of this may be well beyond full human comprehension, I think we understand enough to say that Jesus was in a pretty good place with God!
Yes, Jesus had it made – he was one with God. But he didn’t exploit it. No, instead he “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). Talk about “leaving self behind”! How does one empty oneself, exactly? Again, who can say for sure, but whatever it was, it must have been the ultimate act of self-giving. He “emptied himself”; he poured himself out, hollowed himself out, started out where he was, in the very form of God, God’s equal, and just completely gutted himself out.
He went from God to man; he took the form of a slave – kind of like a remodeling project in reverse, going from the new and exciting to the old and tired. He went from being in the form of God to being in the form of a human, all the way from divine delight down to human agony.
And in that form of a slave, in that lowest of human forms, Jesus was absolutely obedient to whatever calling it was that led him to pour his God-self into that human form. He was obedient to the point of suffering the most humiliating, excruciating death imaginable.
He took on human form – and not the form of a prince, or a king, or a priest. He took the form of an everyday person of the peasant class, and in that form experienced, not joy, not the most sublime of human and earthly pleasures, but the depth of human suffering.
But that depth of suffering was not the end of that particular adventure in self-emptying. It would perhaps seem as if that would have been the end – the inevitable and pathetic end of what really looked like a very foolish experiment: going from oneness with the Creator of the heavens and the earth and pouring oneself out into human form, and then suffering a very ugly and nasty end.
Jesus’ calling, his true path, was to empty himself, taking on oneness with humanity in order to show humanity what is truly oneness with God. He found what he knew he would find: that humanity truly at one with God through every second of a human existence, as his was – this leads directly to suffering.
But Jesus didn’t endure the suffering in order to win a prize. He endured the suffering because being true to his calling inevitably led to it, and he did not flee from it, or shirk it. Absolute faithfulness to his calling – being the human being at one with God – this inevitably led to his suffering. But it also inevitably led to his exaltation.
So what does this exaltation of Jesus mean to us? What Jesus was aiming for when he emptied himself and became a decidedly earthly human being was not an exercise in divine “dumbing down,” or a contest to prove himself worthy of a divine reputation.
No, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was at one with God, in the form of God, God’s equal, became human to show us how to be human. He emptied himself into our form to show us what God had in mind when God gave us form and substance, and breathed into us the very breath of life. He became one of us.
Jesus modeled for us obedience to the call to all of us to be human as he was human – to seek, and to live, oneness with God as he lived it, which means not only oneness with God, but oneness with all human flesh, even in its most abased state.
And Jesus calls us now to be faithful as he was faithful, obedient to our call to be the people of God, children of God living at one with God.
What, then, shall we do? Be faithful to him, model our lives upon his, in order to win our own “exaltation” – or “salvation,” if you will – as some kind of a prize, a reward for jumping through the right hoops? No.
No, we are to model our lives upon his because that brings us to the goal and very purpose of our creation: to be in oneness with God. And this oneness with God may be the only prize we ever get in this life – the only prize we receive, and the only prize we need. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.