Why do we come here today? What is there to say after such a powerful reading? Do we come to do a memorial service for Jesus as we can do for any number of long dead heroes? No. Nor do we come to feel sorry for poor Jesus, who suffered and died. Christians do not gather year after year on this day pretending that they do not know how the story turns out. What we come to do is to remember — remember with power — the sort of remembering that transforms.
We are like a person who suddenly remembers that they put a hundred-dollar bill in a secret place in their wallet. Suddenly his circumstance has changed. The memory opens the way to a way of being, impossible only moments earlier. The memory is a memory of power because putting the hundred-dollar bill in the wallet is an event in the past the effect of which is going in the present.
We come to remember in this way the saving acts of God in history. The acts we celebrate this day are rooted in history: Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, a real, razor backed, little, donkey. He is acclaimed King. He is arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to die on a cross. For Christians this is the event which changes everything: The Son of God came in the flesh and was willing to suffer and die in order that all people for all time could be restored to authentic humanity. His coming among us in the flesh has made the difference. Why did He do this?
Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross….”
Here Paul quotes what may be the oldest known Christian hymn. God was and is continually self-giving. That is the whole meaning of creation. Creation is only possible because God decided to no longer be all that there is. The Jews call this Zim Zum: or the contraction. God limited Himself in order for creation to freely exist.
- Equality with God cannot consist in self-promotion.
- Equality with God cannot be born of privilege.
- Equality with God cannot be exercised with power and status.
- Equality with God is self-giving.
- Equality with God is self-regulating
- Equality with God is the limitation of self for the sake of others.
- Equality with God is becoming immersed in the created world.
- Equality with God is becoming a servant.
It is this equality with God that Jesus displayed on the Cross. It is this equality with God that marks authentic humanity. This equality with God, He shares with those who believe in him.
Gregory of Nyssa (fresco in Chora Church) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, p. 500, v.5, Post Nicene Fathers. “…This is the very thing we learn from the figure of the Cross; it is divided into four parts, so that there are the projections, four in number, from the central point where the whole converges upon itself; because He Who at the hour of his pre-arranged death was stretched upon it is He Who binds together all things into Himself, and by Himself brings to one harmonious agreement the diverse natures of actual existences.
This Cross brings all things into the order and balance that God intended in creation. As Joseph Campbell says in THE POWER OF MYTH, (p. 116) “The sign of the cross has to be looked upon as a sign of an eternal affirmation of all that ever was or shall ever be. It symbolizes not only the one historic moment on Calvary but the mystery through all time and space of God’s presence and participation in the agony of all living things.”
Today we come to remember, remember with power that life comes through death. Today we come to remember that regardless of what is wrong in us, between us, around us, that the Cross reconciles all of it. We may not see the evidence of that in the way that we want. But we believe that such wholeness is ultimately the end of all things.
Therefore if we believe this then let us live like it. Today and everyday let us live as if all will be well. The past year I have been slowly reading the prayers and poems of a woman named Julia Esquivel. She is an exile from her native Guatemala, where she is a target of the death squads. Her book is entitled, THREATENED WITH RESURRECTION.
I AM NOT AFRAID OF DEATH
- I am no longer afraid of death,
- I know well its dark, cold corridors
- leading to life.
- I am afraid rather of that life
- which does not come out of death,
- which cramps our hands
- and slows our march.
- I am afraid of my fear
- and even more of the fear of others,
- who do not know where they are going,
- who continue clinging
- to what they think is life
- which we know to be death!
- I live each day to kill death;
- I die each day to give birth to life,
- and in this death of death,
- I die a thousand times
- and am reborn another thousand
- through that love
- from my people,
- which nourishes hope!
– Julia Esquivel, desde el exilio
- We are here to remember:
- – who He is –
- – whose we are –
- – and
- that in the end
- is what makes all the difference.