Tag Archives: Philippians

Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).

Confident of the glory

The psalmist captures perfectly how we feel when we discover we are not in agreement on a particular issue, or that we are even working at cross purposes. We feel betrayed and deceived.

For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it;
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.

But it was you, a man after my own heart,
my companion, my own familiar friend.

We took sweet counsel together,
and walked with the throng in the house of God.
(Psalm 55:13-15)

How can someone I thought I knew think so differently from me? If we don’t share these attitudes or opinions, what do we actually have in common?

Holy Week teaches us exactly what we have in common — the passion, death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ which opens to us the way of everlasting life.

Like us, Jesus had men and women after his own heart, companions, familiar friends. One betrayed him, one denied him, most of them abandoned him, and they all hid in fear when they heard he had died.

Like the disciples, forgiven for their failings by the Risen Lord, we now share in Christ’s reconciling mission and are clothed by the Holy Spirit to reach forth our hands in love and to bring those who do not know Christ into the knowledge and love of Christ (see BCP 101).

Like the disciples and Christians ever since, we “take sweet counsel together” but disagree on what we’re supposed to do next. Share the good news with Jews only, or with Gentiles, too? Require circumcision or not? Men only as teachers and leaders, or women, too? Keep the kosher food laws or not? Couch the gospel in Jewish terms or translate it into Greek philosophical terms? Become the state religion or keep being persecuted? For 2,000 years we have taken sweet counsel together and disagreed on what to do next.

Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage them not to “worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6).

When we take sweet counsel with God and with one another, we are reminded what we share in common. We are reminded that our disagreements and our partial understanding and our personal agendas pale in the face of the glory that is revealed through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

We do not have to worry — Christ is our confidence. It’s not a zero-sum game; we can embrace “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).

When we take sweet counsel together, we may come to understand a surprising truth. Through Christ, God is continually working a new thing. Not with the power of the state, but through weakness. Not with military might or the rule of law, but by the will of the Father. Not angry over our betrayal, but forgiving even his torturers. Not condemning the weak, but giving us the Holy Spirit and sending us out in his Name.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 220)

I want to know Christ

Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:12-14)

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:11).

Paul is in many ways the model for us modern Christians who “want to know Christ.”

Like him, we rely on the testimony of others rather than having met the living Jesus in person.

Like him, we may have an experience of conversion (though perhaps not as dramatic as his Damascus Road experience), and we may have to spend time figuring out what it means and how we should live in response.

In the daily email “Brother, Give Us a Word” from the SSJE community, Br. David Vryhof writes: “Paul lived for God. His new life was born out of a deep desire to love and serve the God who had claimed him as his own.”

How has God claimed you? What do you desire in your relationship with God? What part of your life might need to be made new?

I have come to know Christ better as I spend time in prayer and the reading of Scripture, particularly as I practice the Daily Office. How do you know Christ in your life? Where do you feel his power and share his sufferings?