Philippians 2:5-11 (online here)
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. In my Church we start the liturgy with waving palm fronds and hosannas only to end with a story of betrayal, injustice and a singularly painful death. It’s almost too much to take in.
Or maybe I shouldn’t say “almost.” It’s apparently too much to take in, period. After all, if we had ever taken in the full import of what happened that day, the Church would never have wound up treating anybody the way Jesus was treated. What we hear today is a story that messes up almost all our favorite assumptions about God, about ourselves, about “success,” about religion. And we’ve never quite figured out what to make of it.
One passage we read every Palm Sunday is Philippians 2:5-11. There St. Paul says that this story of Jesus is the story of God. Jesus is the very form of God, which is another way of saying the very reality of God, the human equivalent of God. Whatever Jesus did, God did, and whatever happened to Jesus happened to God.
Do you want to know what God is like? Do you want to know how God works in the world? Do you want to know how God will treat you? Well then, says Paul, the place to start knowing God is Jesus’ life. That’s God’s life, right here among us.
So … don’t say anything about God that isn’t reflected in Jesus’ life. Especially don’t say anything about God that doesn’t fit the way Jesus emptied himself, gave himself totally, to humility, to serving others, even if it killed him. He wasn’t masochist; he wasn’t codependent—it’s just that he had so much to give. That’s God’s way with us. Any other picture of God you or I might have learned has to take a back seat to this one.
The rest of this week we’ll be following this devastatingly painful part of God’s story with us. If at moments you find yourself living or reliving your own rejection, loss or grief, just remember that this is where God is. Nobody’s surprised when we claim to see God in our moments of triumph. What makes our Christian faith so startling is that we see God’s moment of triumph lived out in what looks like utter failure.