The Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:1-13) is the most beautiful ancient Christian hymn: “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 grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.”
It points to how, in the Incarnation, Jesus let go of all things heavenly. He had the same form and substance as God almighty, but he chose to let go of them– literally he did not snatch them. By being born he began the downward journey of pouring out his love, and became a helpless mortal infant born in a borrowed animal trough. And he did not stop his downward journey there. Through his crucifixion, Jesus Christ became slave-like – because only slaves and traitors to Rome were crucified. So Jesus humbled himself. He made his place with the criminals on the cross, the most humiliating death imaginable.
In our lives, we have sanitized the cross because it is too horrible to consider. Our cross behind the altar at my church is a gorgeous brass thing. Even our wooden crosses are lovely, carved and polished. Some churches even upholster life-sized crosses with purple during Lent and white during Easter. In doing so, we try to hide the brutality of the cross because it is just too painful for us to bear. And yet it is precisely because of the horrible price of the sacrifice paid there that we adore, treasure and venerate the cross of Jesus. The real cross was splintery, rough, unpolished and certainly unfinished. The only polishing of the real cross was done by Jesus’s bleeding body as he hung writhing in pain. And the only finish it bore were Jesus’s final words “It is finished.” And yet for more than 1500 years, the church sings another ancient hymn: “Faithful cross above all other! One and only noble tree! None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peer may be: Sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight is hung on thee.”
Alister McGrath writes, “We simply cannot be allowed to sanitize or domesticate the brutality and horror of the cross in our headlong rush to extract some abstract, sanitized theological principles from the historical carnage and brutality of Good Friday.”
And the terrifying thing is the introduction to St. Paul’s hymn: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That means that we, like Jesus, are to embark on a journey of downward mobility.
Henri Nouwen writes “This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless--toward all who ask for compassion.” Reader, go and do likewise.