“Then the soldiers… platted a crown of thorns and put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying: ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’”
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he went to Jerusalem for the Passover and when the people discovered that he was there they went out to meet him with palms crying out “Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord!” The ruling elite in Jerusalem had already attempted to arrest him several times, but he simply walked away. They couldn’t lay a hand upon him; they would not take him until he was ready.
That Passover, he was ready. When Judas betrayed him in the Garden, a band of Roman soldiers formally arrest him and turned him over to the Jewish authorities. But before the night was over the Temple rulers would hand him over to the Romans. Caesar took custody of the enfleshed God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Listen to me: by what we call 9:00 a.m., Caesar had nailed him to the cross and by 3:00 p.m. he was dead. Twenty-six years later St. Paul wrote to the Christians of Philippi and he quoted what was probably a popular hymn in their Liturgy:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men… he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross…” Philippians 2
Paul’s hymn begins with the declaration that Jesus is in and of himself God Almighty.
“Who being in the form of God…”
The word translated “form” speaks of the formal cause, which was the outward expression of the essential nature of a thing. It does not mean form, as in mere appearance. That Christ was in the form of God does not mean that he is like God, or is similar to God, or that he only appears to be God. When the Church of Philippi sang, “Who being in the form of God,” they meant that Jesus Christ was in fact God Almighty. The same word is used in another verse of the hymn:
“(Christ) took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men”
This is what it means: Jesus Christ is God and this God became a real human being. He has always been God and he always will be God. But he has not always been a human being. He became a human being just like all of us: he had a Mother. In fact, when God became flesh, he became Mary’s flesh. As sure as you are the flesh of your mother, God became the flesh his His Mother, thus the Church’s august title for Mary is Theotokos: “Mother of God.” The blood that flowed down the Cross was the blood the Son of the Father received from the Blessed Virgin Mary. He did not disguise himself as a human being. He became one of us; a real human being, a real man, fragile as any other man and beset by the same human contingencies that beset us all. How fragile? Well, ultimately the Roman authorities put him to death. God became flesh, he did not merely animate a piece of flesh to disguise his true identity or speak from behind a mask of human flesh.
Furthermore God’s human flesh, his human nature, is now part and parcel of his Divine life, and it always will be. In Genesis we have the narrative of man made in the image of God while in life of Jesus Christ we have the narrative of God made in the image of man. In the story of God’s life made flesh we see not only the uncreated glory of the only begotten Son, but we also see the created glory of his creature man uplifted as God has always intended.
The Incarnation was not merely God’s response to sin; the Incarnation is not God’s backup plan; the Incarnation is God’s perfect will, his loving will to enable his creature man to participate in his Divine life, to enable his creature man to know the God who is God and to love the God who is God as his own divinized child. That had always been God’s intention and sin did not get in the way of God’s intention to enter his creation as a creature so that the creature could do the unthinkable: actually, really enter into the uncreated life of the God who is God. It is our destiny, in a manner of speaking, to see God through God’s own eyes.
The original and continuing intention and the very real accomplishment of the Incarnation was and is the deification of man and the bestowal of God’s glory upon his creature. That is it! Believe or not we hit the jackpot of all jackpots. The uplift and the deification of man and the bestowal of God’s glory upon man was the purpose and the accomplishment of the Incarnation. Let’s get back to the text.
Having gathered strength from his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus then opened himself up completely to Satan’s final assault. This is sickening. And this is love. Jesus suffered as no man can possible suffer. He suffered as true God who knows with exquisite perfection each lash, each blow, and each iron nail driven into his hands and feet. Because he was true God his agony, his experience of pain & passion is simply beyond our comprehension. And so is his love for us, beyond our comprehension. And it is his love that beckons us, even lures us, into the mystery of godliness beyond our horizon.
“And when he had scourged Jesus he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers took Jesus… and they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe… And they bowed the knee before him and mocked him saying: Hail, King of the Jews.”
God clothed our first Parents with the skins of animals not to cover our shame but rather that we might know from the inside out sin’s finality with regard to creation. There is no felix culpa. There is nothing good about sin. And God would not permit sin to get in the way of his original intention to make us his very own children.
Palm Sunday commemorates the moment of Jesus’ glory, his love and faith in his Father and his unending love for us. After scourging the Shepherd of Love, the Roman soldiers covered God’s Flesh with a scarlet robe, the blood soaked banner that proclaimed Jesus’ never failing faith in his Father, and they quickly took him off to Golgotha, a high spot not far away. And that is where he died of his own free will and there his body of flesh became the place of judgement and the place of blessing for the whole wide universe.
Palm Sunday is the harbinger, the signal, of the end of Lent and the beginning of springtime for the Church and for all humanity. But this season has become and will continue to be a season shriven: shriven of palms, this year like last year shriven of the close physical presence of one another, and on Good Friday shriven of the Sacrament of Sacraments, the Holy Eucharist. But be sure of this: we are not shriven of Christ and his love for us. He has taken our nature into himself and become one of us — body and all — forever. He has made us partakers of the Divine nature. He has emptied himself for love of his Father and you. He will never leave us or forsake us. And now you and I are called to empty ourselves for love of him and others.