“One passage we read every Palm Sunday is Philippians 2:5-11. There St. Paul says that the story of Jesus is the story of God, condensed into a single human life. Jesus is the very form of God, which is another way of saying the very reality of God, the human face 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.”
I’ve been repeating this Palm Sunday reflection every year. It seems especially appropriate this year as our very lives are being turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many of you know, I am drawn to several versions of process theology (yes, there are several versions). In other words, I view God‘s power, not as all-controlling, but as all-empowering—sharing responsive creativity with even the tiniest bit of concrete existence. This yields a haphazard world where conflict and suffering cannot be prevented. Pandemics and other natural disasters are not some part of a horrendous plan. They are unavoidable byproducts of multiple centers of responsive creativity.
So what is God doing about that? God is doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to reconcile all things (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20).
This is how I understand God’s power. It’s not total control, so it would be misleading to call it omnipotence. While universally influential, it can always be resisted—by you, me, other organisms, viruses, molecules, natural forces, etc. It doesn’t prevent devastating things from happening, not only to us but even to God! But it can’t be escaped. It keeps coming back, insistently.
That’s what Jesus’ first followers discovered. That’s what I see when I read this passage from Philippians.