Palm Sunday – He emptied himself

 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

This morning we have begun Holy Week, the culmination of our Lent and leading to the most important celebration of the Christian year – the Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Sunday.

Through this coming week we will read through the accounts in the different Gospels of the Passion of our Lord – it is a time to put aside our over busy agendas, a time for meditation, to focus our minds, that the hiddenness of the meaning of our Lord’s Passion and death upon the Cross and His Resurrection, might be revealed and impact us at deeper levels and continue the work of transforming and sanctifying of our hearts.

We saw in our two Gospel readings this morning – the triumphal entry into Jerusalem [St Matthew 21:1-11], and the Passion of Christ according to Matthew [St Matthew 27:1-54] – the different responses of the crowds, and the fickleness of many in the crowds, ready to exalt and ready to condemn.  Jesus, simply walks through these moments, steady, accepting the praise, however faint and fickle, but very intentionally – moving ever closer to the heart of the matter – to the Temple where He came to re-establish right worship.  And not just there, but in the Temple that is the heart of every one of us.  He is not satisfied if we receive the grace of God and then spend it in ways that will not bring peace to our souls, that do not build up community life, that do not glorify God.

Jesus has come to reopen the gates of true prayer in our hearts, that we might offer right worship, that we might love God and our neighbour.

————

In the Epistle today [Philippians 2:5-11] Paul guides us to a certain kind of reflection this week, as we follow the humiliation of Jesus to Jerusalem.

Paul wants this mind that was in Jesus to be in us, individually and in our relations with one another.
Paul says that Jesus “emptied himself”.  But what does this mean?  The Greek term for “emptying” is “kenosis”.  Some have suggested Jesus gave up his divine power to become a man, and yet this is not the way this is understood in other passages of Paul.  Rather, it is about his “giving up his status and privilege”, when he came to dwell with us.  He did not assert these things foremost, but dwelt here as a servant, desiring us to see His divinity in His humble actions, in his continual stepping away when they would have made him king, in his calling on people not to speak of the miracle done, in not asserting, but coming in our midst as fully human, eating and drinking with sinners, washing the feet of his disciples, and submitting to the world’s injustice on the Cross that the world’s justice might be revealed for what it was.

How could we have this mind in us?  There is a tradition through the middle ages and into the present, especially in Russian Orthodoxy, of the holy fool.  There is a recent novel Laurus, by Eugene Vodolazkin, which describes beautifully the life and witness of a holy fool in late medieval Russia.

I have met one such holy fool, I think, many years ago in Ottawa, when I was still a professional engineer working for the Canadian government.  I used to walk home from work from Hull, through the market area downtown, then to take in Evening Prayer at St Alban the Martyr, on my way home.  And in the market area were beggars, and it was not unusual to be approached for spare change.  I remember it was a hot summer evening, I was in my work clothes, and this rough looking bearded man approached me, and asked for change.  I reached into my pocket and I had quite of bit of change, so I put it into his hands, but when I put it in, it simply spilled out of his hands all over the sidewalk.  He said to me, “Oh, I’m sorry, ever since I was young I’ve had these holes in my hands.”  So the two of us knelt down together to pick it up. And when that was done he just looked at me intently, very intentionally, and with the eyes of deep wisdom and love.  And then he left.

It was a powerful witness to me.  I could think of nothing else than of Jesus.  Who was that man?  Had I met the risen Lord?  And it was one of several incidents, nudges from God, that led me to desire a more radical following of Jesus in my life.  I don’t know his story, but this man had emptied himself, he had no privilege or status and yet he had set my heart on fire.

Perhaps that is a more radical step than any of us can take, or are meant to take.  And yet we are asked this morning to consider ways that we can empty ourselves of status and privilege to follow our Lord more closely.

Paul writes this passage in the context of getting along with one another in the Church.  “Complete my joy,” he says, “by being of the same mind…let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  How can your priest self-empty to be a better witness?  How can each of you self-empty before one another to be a powerful witness?  How can we in our friendships, in our marriages, in our witness to our children, how can we self-empty to be a more powerful witness?  Seeking not to be served, but to serve?  How can we take up our Cross and follow Jesus?

Are there ideas that we must give up?  Are there cherished plans we have that we must give up?  Are there ideas of church that we must give up for the unity of the whole?  Are there ideas of God that we must have shattered so that the God of Israel, revealed by Jesus Christ, might form us anew?  These are some questions to ponder as we walk with Jesus this Holy Week.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen +

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