by Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson
Theme: Jesus Christ is Lord!
The stage is set. As Jesus enters Jerusalem for his final confrontation with the Powers, the city sizzles with expectation. The oppressed masses think they have found the Davidic messiah for whom they’ve long hoped. The authorities await the right moment to have Jesus destroyed once and for all. Jesus’ disciples, hopeful but probably also confused, aren’t sure what will happen.
Jesus, amidst it all, knows who he is. Unlike the first humans, he will not grasp for divinity. Unlike Caesar, he will not proclaim himself a holy king. Instead, Jesus shucks all previous understandings of power and status: “Taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Today’s excerpt from Philippians is one of the earliest hymns to Jesus known to the church. It celebrates Jesus’ self-emptying obedience which leads directly to his divine exaltation as Lord of all.
Holy Week invites us to linger with the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection laid out before us. As we begin the final leg of our Lenten journey, we are called to slow down, even to stop if we can, and to meditate with awe and trembling at the sacred overturning of everything the world deems true, important, successful. We are called to witness the stunning power that flows from completely letting go of everything that is “ours” in order to receive everything that is God’s.
More than that, we are called to follow in this royal Way. For Paul’s hymn to Christ is sung to the Philippians not simply to exalt the Risen One, but to inspire Paul’s hearers to imitation of the Lord: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Only by allowing God to empty us of all our ego, all our pretensions, all our claims to self-sufficiency, can we find our hearts, minds and souls possessed by the same Spirit that was in Jesus.
As we enter this sacred season, let us pray all the more fervently for God to empty us of all that the “world” has put in our hearts as “truth.” May we never again “bend the knee” to those who falsely claim to bring peace and salvation. Rather, let us joyfully join in the song which confesses, to the glory of God, that Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all.
This reflection was written by Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson. Wes and Sue are collaborators in Abide in Me. Wes is also the author most recently of Come Out My People: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond. The reflection is from Transforming Encounter, Radical Discipleship: A Lenten Journey, published by Pax Christi USA.