(Matt. 21:1-11; Isa. 50:4-9a; Ps. 31:9-18; Phil. 2:5-11; Matt. 27:11-54)
On Thursday night, attending my first Warden’s meeting, we considered the following statement by Max Lucado:
Christianity, in its purest form, is nothing more than seeing Jesus. Christian service, in its purest form, is nothing more than imitating him whom we see. To see his glory, and to imitate him, that is the sum of Christianity.
Easter is the pinnacle festival of the church calendar. This is not so much because it is the end of the story or even that it is its beginning – both of which could be readily argued. Rather, it is the pinnacle festival for the simple reason that it is the point at which we see most clearly the glory of God.
Today, our passages – Isaiah’s time-travelling prophecy, Jesus’ riding a young donkey, the Christological psalm found in Philippians, the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion – encourage us to see something surprising: the humility of God as displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Our Saviour’s entry into Jerusalem is a thrilling and dramatic scene: Jesus’ quiet prediction of an available colt, the fulfilling of the prophet’s ancient words, crowds cutting branches and stripping off to pave the road, Jesus astride his unridden donkey. No wonder this ancient, holy, and contested city was in ‘turmoil’!
Yes, Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem was an event. His donkey’s colt stands in stark contrast to the stallions, embossed chariots, and accompanying armies that must also have passed through these gates. Representatives of Rome rarely wasted an opportunity to intimidate with their wealth and power.
But Jesus is simply not here for these reasons. If his instructions to his disciples tell us anything, they tell us that Jesus consciously chose to ride this foal. As oxymoronic as it may sound, Jesus comes through these historic gates seeking to display his humility.
We know such calculated symbols and impressions are not always wisely trusted. They have all the potential to manipulate, to distract from other motives and intentions, to mask deep and secret desires for power and control.
There is, quite simply, a risk to what Jesus is doing. Riding this donkey through this prestigious city will look alarmingly hollow if it is not backed up with profound action. Jesus will have to live this humility if this display is ever to make sense. Then again, perhaps this colt is something of a note-to-self on Jesus’ part: a reminder that hehas come ‘not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
And as strange as all this may seem, given half a chance, these people would still go all the way and crown him. Their response to his arrival seems so unplanned, so spontaneous, a movement of the people. They hail him the expected ‘Son of David’ proclaiming his coming to be ‘in the name of the Lord’. Indeed, they insist that all heaven is singing ‘Hosanna’ beside them.
But as the next few days unfold we could be forgiven for looking back on this event and wondering how a week that includes this man’s crucifixion could possibly begin with such a promising, public, display of affection.
All too soon this enthusiastic, worshipping, crowd will disperse to such a degree that Jesus will be alone; he will be left in the clutches of an all too easily manipulated crowd, and; he will be given in exchange for a notorious murderer. There will be no more hailing his coming as the hope of heaven. In a few days another crowd will call for his blood.
And the one from heaven will give it.
In the events of Passion Sunday there are symbols that will soon look dangerously hollow and lifeless: coats, branches, loud, spontaneous praises. But there is one symbol that will be authenticated with action. The choosing of a donkey’s colt was full, rich, and perceptive. It forces the overused, self-serving, power-hungry, and, ultimately, unimaginative glory of Rome to fade in the dazzling light of the groundbreaking, faith-filled, glory of God.
Philippians 2:1-11 is considered by many to be one of the earliest responses we have to the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If Paul is quoting already known and used words, we just may have here one of the earliest Christological creeds.
And we think it is a song, a hymn. It, like the waving of branches, laying of cloaks, and singing hosannas, is worship.
But Paul wants his readers to hear this familiar song, their words of worship, with new ears. It is just not enough for this community to sing these words simply as an account of the action of God in the person of Jesus. This story, this song, is to transform the way they relate to each other.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is celebrated here as a reminder that if the creator of everything is not triumphant and proud, we too have good reason to live lives in the radical way of humility, service, and love. Paul, without for a moment denying the reality of the events this song articulates, recontextualises them with his disarming introductory plea: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’
Essentially, Paul asks his readers to hear again the story of God, in the hope that they may so accurately see Jesus that they would begin to live in the same radical way of humility.
It is my prayer that we may see Jesus anew this Easter. And then, having seen him, I pray that we may be filled with a renewed desire and determination to imitate the extraordinary life that this community, and others like it, gather around. Essentially, I pray that we would, this week, find nourishment in the story of Easter – consciously and carefully nurturing the mind of Christ in and among us.
To put it another way, I pray we would be find in our Easter celebration a renewed determination to be found ‘Walking together with Jesus to take his life into the world.’ A people ‘seeing Jesus’ and ‘imitating him whom we see.’
I suspect Paul’s introduction to that ancient song – that testimony to the glory of God displayed in Jesus’ humility and obedience – is also the perfect invitation for us as we enter this most holy of all weeks. May the apostle’s challenge colour our remembering this Easter: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’