Poured Out – Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
Philippians 2: 5-11
April 9, 2017
Main Idea: Jesus reveals the heart of God.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
On that Palm Sunday long ago, Jesus understood the hopes and wishes of the people who cheered his entry into Jerusalem. He knew the yearning of the powerless; to be free, to be strong, to be valued. He was aware of their expectations for him; to liberate them, to empower them, to defeat those who had hurt and oppressed them. We understand those crowds too! We yearn to be together in a crowd, to stand together and watch a parade go by. We want to be free, to be strong, to be valued. We want to overthrow this horrific virus, and the social structures that leave so many vulnerable, that protect the few rather than the many. We want to make the world safe and healthy and well. In this time of global crisis and overwhelming need, we sing out “Hosanna! which means Save Us! Please Jesus save us!
And Jesus does save us.
How he saves us is beautifully expressed in this ancient hymn of the early church. This hymn is perhaps the earliest Christian writing that we have, predating the gospels and the writings of Paul. The movement of this passage takes us from the heights of heaven down through human life to death, not just death, but death on a cross and then it moves upward and outward into ever widening circles of honor and praise. The hymn sings of power and humility, of obedience and lordship, life and death, humanity and divinity. The hymn reveals the very heart of God.
Usually when we contemplate the events of Holy Week which lie between today and Easter we most commonly falls into one of two camps. One camp focuses on the cross. It sees Jesus bailing us out of trouble, paying our debts, taking our punishment so that we don’t have to. We focus on his pain and death and our betrayal of him. The other camp focuses on the glory. It sees Jesus on the cross as just an unpleasant stop on the way to Easter, like the pain of a root canal. We imagine that Jesus knows that his suffering is only temporary and small when compared to his eternal heavenly glory. We hopscotch from Palm Sunday to Easter. Neither of these approaches seem to work this year when we are struggling to make sense of what is happening all around us.
This hymn lifts up the cross as central to the glory. It challenges those who would choose one or the other. The hymn proclaims that Christ Jesus, God All Powerful, has no need to grasp power. Instead God chooses to pour out God’s essence upon the world, to incarnate as Jesus, a lowly person, someone of no status and no power. As a person, Jesus served the world by showing God’s love to those who were considered unlovable and by challenging the unholy powers of violence, fear, and greed. Jesus’ service led directly to his death on the cross. Real death, with all that that entails.
The glory and honor expressed in the second half of the hymn is not given as a reward for Jesus’ action; because Jesus did this, God does that. Instead, the exaltation reveals that self-giving love is the very essence of God, the very essence of God’s vision for creation. “Jesus’ choice to live [and die] as a servant is not a deferral of his divine nature, but rather its truest expression.” (Sally Brown, workingpreacher.org). “As [Ancient Church Father] Gregory of Nyssa notes, God’s transcendent power is more conspicuously displayed in the lowliness of Christ’s incarnation than in all the natural wonders of the universe.” (Amy Plantinga Pauw, FOTW Year A Vol 2, p. 172) In a world wracked with illness, sin, and violence, only the self-giving love of God in Jesus can bring us wholeness and peace. Only self-giving love can unite all of humanity, all of creation, “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
This Holy Week, our world is afraid and sorrowing as we all deal with this horrific pandemic in addition to the terror and violence in so many places; Syria, Burma, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, refugees at so many borders. Suffering and need overwhelm. We are tempted to close our eyes but the suffering is also here in our own neighborhoods, among our friends and colleagues. We are tempted to respond to these problems by retreating to our own strength and power by hoarding food and toilet paper! Neither of these responses are sufficient nor ultimately useful.
Jesus shows us the way forward. Jesus reveals the only solution to our life and death problems. Self-giving love is the answer. Only love. Love does not earn us a spot in heaven; we do this and God rewards us. Rather, when we act through love we are participating with God in the transformation of the world. Love leads us to stay at home to protect the vulnerable and to give our healthcare workers the time and space to care for those who are sick now. Love leads us to call our neighbors and to check in with those who live alone. Love leads us to go grocery shopping for those who cannot go out. Love leads us to volunteer with feeding ministries and programs for the vulnerable. Love leads us to do acts of kindness for our essential workers; nurses, doctors, first responders, grocery store workers, garbage collectors, mail carriers, cleaning crews, and so many more, who are risking their health to protect the health of others. Love leads us to see beyond our fear to the incredible community in which we live. Once we are beyond this crisis, our communities will be stronger because of the love shown today.
Next Sunday we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death, and we surely are in need of Easter! But today and this week as we ponder Jesus’ journey to the cross and the crises in which we find ourselves, let us hold tight to the power of Jesus’ courage and love, God’s courage and love, the power of pouring one’s self out to bring peace and life to all. Let us be of the same mind as Christ, sharing God’s love in all that we do.
Let us pray,
Exalted Servant God, Hosanna, we are overwhelmed by your love, we are overwhelmed by the world’s need. Embolden us to reach out in love. Empower us to perceive the world through the mind of Christ. Amen.