“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus
…who, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Today we have begun Holy Week, the climax of Lent.
We look at the Passion throughout this week because it is both history and it is the archetypical story that is at the foundation of our souls and of our culture. We are shaped by the Passion even if we don’t understand it. Whenever we see a movie or read a novel, where one of the characters reaches some point of a real self-sacrifice, putting his or her life on the line for the greater good, we resonate with it – because of the truth that it reveals – you could say it is a reminder of what we know deep down is the highest love – “there is no greater love than this, that a person lays down his life for his friends” – and this is shown to us in the most archetypical way by Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel is that story in its most stark manifestation [St Matthew 27:1-54]. The sinless, righteous and loving man, is abandoned by his followers, denied by one of his close friends, betrayed by another, and put to death by his enemies. Wound after wound – to his soul and to his body. And Jesus undergoes it willingly and courageously.
In our Epistle [Philippians 2:5-11] St Paul tells us, Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. And in our Collect we prayed that we would follow the example of his great humility…the example of his patience…and so be a partaker in his resurrection.
Well what does that mean – to have this mind in us…to follow the example of his great humility – are we to get ourselves crucified? Let me suggest that, yes, we need to be willing to be crucified.
We know that in the Bible we are told again and again that Jesus has taken upon himself the punishment that we deserve – we read this in the suffering Servant of Isaiah, and we read it in the writings of the Apostles. Jesus frees us up from endlessly trying to make up for our failings in love. So that kind of suffering is not something that we are to take upon ourselves – come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will refresh you, says Jesus, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. [St Matthew 11:28-30] He takes away the burden of our sins that we might be freed up to love. That is not the kind of suffering we are to take upon ourselves.
So what kind of suffering are we to take on? What is our crucifixion?
First, there will be the suffering of standing up for the truth.
Jesus says very clearly – if they do this to me they will do it to you, if you follow me. [John 15:20-21] Have we become so nice, so innocuous, that no one will be offended by us? Jesus suggests that, if that is the case, we are probably not speaking the truth. We would be like a parent who is so afraid of being not loved by their child that he or she never challenges them, or like a spouse or a friend who never makes waves. If we are to truly love, we cannot abide with foolish statements or destructive patterns of life in our midst without speaking up.
And we will suffer for it – being vilified in public? or risking the loss of an unhealthy relationship? are we willing to do this? [see the example of Jordan Peterson who is surviving the media storm and misinformation for speaking out against the excesses of the left and the right]
So there is the suffering of standing up for the truth that Jesus demands of us.
Can you drink of the cup I drink of or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?
Second, there will also be the suffering of engaging with the sufferings of others.
One preacher describes our holding back from loving others as,
“Terror of involvement, fear of failure – of hurting as well as being hurt – the dread of having our powerlessness nakedly spelled out for us: all of this is the common coin of most of our lives. For beneath the humility of the person who believes he or she knows their limitations is the fear of those who have never found or felt their limitations… We do not know what we can or cannot bear until we have risked the impossible and intolerable in our own lives. Christ bears what is unbearable, but we must first find it and know it to be unbearable. And it does not stop being ours when it becomes his. Only thus can we translate our complicity in the death of Christ into a communion in the death of Christ, a baptism into the death of Christ: by not refusing, by not escaping, by forgetting our realism and our reasonableness, by letting the heart speak freely, by exposing ourselves, by making ourselves vulnerable.” [Archbishop Rowan Williams, Holy Living, ch. 1]
Every one of us lives with other people – either right in our home or in the people we have contact with daily outside our home. Are we opening up ourselves to really hear each other’s struggles? Taking the time to listen to the people who are in front of us? Are we able to say as St Paul says, Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? [2 Cor 1:24]
I do meet people in my ministry who do come to know their limitations and their need of Jesus Christ and this message is not for them. We do need to understand our limits but fear or lack of courage should not be confused with prudence.
This kind of pouring out of ourselves in suffering love for our neighbour – we feel the suffering in our hearts – this is to have the mind of Christ. St Paul says, boldly and shockingly, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of the body, which is the Church.” [Col 1:24]
So if we are to have the mind of Christ – we must be willing first to suffer for speaking the truth, and, second, to suffer for really engaging with the sufferings of others.
And, third, there is the real suffering of dying to sin. Each one of us knows inwardly what that is about for us. It is a kind of death to part of our lives that doesn’t give God glory, that we might be reborn in the new life that opens up in its place. It is a real dying, a real suffering – a purifying fire – to know the mind of Christ that is pure and innocent. This is a lifelong labour of humbling ourselves before God.
This morning we consider the voluntary acceptance of these kinds of suffering involved in being human and being in the world – this is part of what it is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. When we voluntarily accept that suffering, we have the mind of Christ… Who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In the breaking of bread and in the drinking of the cup, Jesus puts before us this solemn truth – Sunday by Sunday. This he tells us is how we come to know true glory. Only if we share in these sufferings will we partake of his resurrection. Will you drink of this cup?