“Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”
This morning we are taking part and continuing an ancient tradition of the Church. The Sunday of Holy Week, what we now call Palm Sunday, has had the same Epistle and Gospel in the Western church for at least 1600 years. The procession with palms was started at the time of Constantine the Roman Emperor when he and his mother, Helena, established churches in Jerusalem to mark the actions of Christ during Holy Week.
Today, I want to offer a few short thoughts to help us prepare for this holiest of weeks and the great Easter feast. First, we must assert that what we proclaim within the liturgy, we really believe to be true. Not only do we believe that these historical events actually happened, but we believe that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed the world and that our liturgy has real power because of the work of Christ. As we looked at last week, we believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He is the Son of God, and that He is truly a man.
Second, we believe that Jesus Christ came of His own free will to reconcile man to God. After the Jews conspired to kill Jesus, he withdraws himself until the appointed time. It was no accident, then, that after the Passover meal, Jesus allows Judas to go, and he goes to the Garden of Gesthemene in order to spend his final evening in earnest prayer. He knows what is set before him, and he knows that he will have to go about it alone. His disciples will abandon him as the soldiers come and he is taken into custody. The other followers all watch from afar as he is crucified. The Jews turn against him as their leaders rush a fake trial on bogus charges. The Gentiles turn against him as Pontius Pilot sentences him to death. Jesus Christ alone faces the cross, one of the cruelest inventions of humanity, and he does so knowing what is to come. It is of his own will that he faces death and the sin of the whole world.
Third, we believe that Christ actually accomplished something on the cross. In perfect obedience and full knowledge, Christ takes on the weight of the world in order to reconcile man to God. As St. Paul writes: “He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”And that work of reconciliation includes conquering death, atoning the sins of the world, and his own glory.
As Christ died, so did he conquer death upon that cross. Humans were wounded by eating from a tree, and from the sin of Adam and Eve, death wrought its curse upon every child. Each infant that is born is born into death, and is without hope of true life. But through Christ’s work on the cross, he took on the sin of our parents and by dying on the cross, conquered death once and for all. Now Christians no longer have to fear eternal death, since we are joined into his life at our baptisms. When parents bring a baby to the baptismal font, we see a beautiful baby, but God sees and knows how that baby is sick with death. But God has sought to redeem humanity from its sickness and that power came from the cross. Paul writes to the Romans: “[Rom 6:4 KJV] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” This is one of the mysteries of Christ’s death on the Cross: that through his death, we might all live with him.
His death on the cross was also an atoning Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. As when the Hebrews were saved by spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorposts so that the blood would atone for the demands of death, Jesus’ blood atones for the sins of the whole world. He took on physical pain at the Cross, to be sure, but even more he took on a spiritual weight in that he took on the weight of all sin of all time on him. As Paul writes the Galatians in an alarming phrase: “[Gal 3:13 KJV] Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree:”
The final mystery of the Cross we will look at this morning is that by this humiliating, excruciating, and awful death, Christ is glorified. Paul ends the Epistle set for this Sunday: “He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus’ name is glorified above all names because it is through his incarnation that the Word became man and died on a cross so that mankind may be reconciled to God. And that beautiful name of Jesus is now our name for we are sons of God IN Jesus. We are Christians, little Christ’s, who have been born again into his identity, who hold onto his promises of eternal life, and who gaze upon our saviour on the cross in humility, thankfulness, and in great glory.
Take this most Holy Week and meditate upon your glorious Master upon the Cross. By his mysterious work you are saved. Look upon his face that was beaten for that is the face of God. Look upon his hands and feet which were pierced with nails for those are the hands and feet of God. Look upon his bruised body that was torn to pieces by whips for that is the body of God. Look upon Jesus on the Cross for He is God. He is the God whom we worship, the God who suffered on our account, the God who loved us so much that he sent His only Son to reconcile us, the God who died on a cross in order to save us from our own sin.
Our job this week is to meditate upon this wondrous mystery. Take time each day this week to focus on the cross so that your Easter joy might be more rewarding. As the Psalmist says: “[Psa 126:3-5 KJV] The LORD hath done great things for us; [whereof] we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Let us sow in tears this week as we ponder the death of Our Lord so that we may reap in joy on Easter Sunday.