Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our God and Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This has been a strange Lent for me. As I thought back about Lent in my childhood I remembered long readings from the Passion, certain Lenten hymns, week-night (usually Wednesday) services, and an overall somber tone. This year there has not been time for any of that as we continue to wrestle with our mission and calling here, listening for the Spirit to call us with a loud and clear voice. I met someone on the street the other day, who asked what I had given up for Lent, and I replied, "Lent, actually!" Now, however, this Sunday and these readings force me; force us, to look at the cross. They force us to look at the inhabited cross, hung with the body of Jesus. It is time to pause in our journey from Then to Now, and to take on Lent, to walk the way of Holy Week and to anticipate the mystery of the Three Great Days. It is also time for me to address you as individuals. Although we are led as a community by the cross of Christ, the demands of this Holy Week appeal to our individual faith and journey. At this point then, I give up Trinity Church, and take on each of us as we begin our Holy Week observance.
Although the Second Lesson was not read today, it is the lesson that can give us some guidance for this Holy Week. It is a quotation by Paul of an ancient Christian hymn in his Letter to the Philippians that forms a part of his instruction to the congregation there. His instruction is centered on three virtues: Steadfastness, Harmony, and finally Equality, and it is the theme of Equality that forms the basis of this hymn. Actually creed is a better word to describe the words that follow.
Who, though of divine status
Did not treat like a miser's booty
His right to be like God,
but emptied himself of it,
to take up the status of a slave
and become like men;
having assumed human form,
he still further humbled himself
with an obedience that meant death
even death upon a cross!
That is why God has so greatly exalted him
And given him the name
Which is above all others:
that everyone at Jesus' name
should bend his knee
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth!
that every tongue should proclaim
unto the glory of God the Father
that Jesus Christ is Lord (kyrios)!
In this hymn/creed is the core of Christian belief about Jesus, a belief that we reenact this morning with our procession, with our remembrance and reading, and in the meal we will soon share. The creed/belief is simply this: Jesus is the very breath of God, Jesus emptied himself and became on of us, Jesus was one of us to the point of death, Jesus was raised up, and given an exalted name. Jesus is Lord!
To the people of this military town, built and renewed by Romans using Roman resources, this is nothing short of a radical statement. Greek tyrants, Persian despots, and Roman emperors regularly took the title "Kyrios" or Lord. It is Jesus who now not only takes it, but also redefines it. The nations of the earth are not gathered at the Throne of Jesus, but rather at the Throne that is the Cross. From here, Jesus rules all time with mercy, grace, and suffering. As Paul says in other verses in other letters, it is a stumbling block, a difficult image. And yet it is our central image the Kyrios on the cross.
We, as individuals, will walk up to this cross, pause in wonder and a bit of terror, and then we will move beyond it. The destination will be the mystery and wonder of an open tomb. For right now, however, for these next days, let us pause here and, taking our Lady's example, ponder. For people caught up in life and all of its contradictions and foibles, we may need to use Jesus' manner in approaching this cross and tomb. If Jesus takes on the cross in his humility, then we need to stand before it in humility. By this I do not mean that we observe it as a beaten down, shamed, disgraced people. No rather in the sense of humiliation as being that state of taking in all things, making something new of them. It is in the humus, the rich soil that comes from decay, that new growth appears.
Walk then to the cross in humility, and know it as an example of Christ's humility, of his taking you on, with all that you are, with all that you have both succeeded in and failed at, with all of this, and signed you with mercy and grace. And take on the humility of our time, the refuse of our city streets, the people we disdain and wonder about, take these humiliations into your heart, and see them all drawn together into this Jesus on the cross. "And I when I am lifted up, will draw all things to myself."
Such humility is not without reward, the reward of Easter exaltation that will surely follow. Such humility will end with our names exalted in baptism, and renewal. This is our journey for the week, to walk with the cross, to the cross, and beyond the cross, and in those acts to understand that God exalts and raises all of us. We must be on our way.