27 September 2020

Always Easter in the mind of Christ

Bible Passage: Philippians 2:1-13

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

I’m sure some of you are familiar with the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Remember the description of Narnia, as always winter, never Christmas? Sometimes I think in this pandemic year, this 2020, that we are always Lent, never Easter. Here we are, on the other side of the year from Holy Week and Easter, with this reading from Philippians that we often hear on Palm Sunday or Good Friday. This is reinforced by all that has happened in the Gospel, since the story we heard last week: Jesus has entered Jerusalem, cursed the fig tree, reminded people he is going to suffer and die, and turned over the tables in the temple, all but assuring his arrest and death. In our own day, much has happened in the past week to make us, perhaps, dwell on death, and have less to hope for than we might wish. I’m not going to repeat the week’s headlines; we all have our favorites and least favorites.

So here we are on the other side of the year from Jesus’ death on the cross, with these readings, not here to remind us that it is always Lent, never Easter, but actually to invite us to remember that it is, in fact, always Easter.

The reading from Philippians reminds us that to get to Easter, to get to the fullness of God’s presence with us and in us, there is this movement of God emptying God’s self, taking human form, becoming obedient unto death. Henri Nouwen calls this “downward mobility.” It’s what Jesus does and what we are called to do as we live our Christian lives. Downward mobility doesn’t necessarily have to do only with our material lives—although it may—but with our relation to the world. There is a movement in this passage, from emptying to filling. God empties God’s self and therefore God also highly exalts Jesus.

The same mind that the author of the Letter to the Philippians encourages us to have, the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, is the mind that can wrap itself around this downward mobility, this self-emptying.

God empties Godself into us, and we empty ourselves into the world. This is what it means to have the mind of Christ.

To have the mind of Christ is to see God in John the Baptist, and in Jesus. To have the mind of Christ is to be like the first son in the parable Jesus tells, who says no, I won’t go work in the field, and then does. It is almost not about whether or not he works in the field or how much—remember last week, when the person who worked an hour was paid as much as the person who worked all day?—it’s about the way that the father in the parable honors the turning, the movement from no to yes.

To have the mind of Christ is to understand the place of tax collectors and prostitutes in the Kingdom of God, to understand that even people who make us mad and afraid, whether they are political allies or opponents, a president we love or don’t love, protesters or counter-protesters, fascists or anti-fascists—to have the mind of Christ is to understand that there is a place for all of those people in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus says to the chief priests and the elders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the Kingdom before them, he is reminding them that what is important is the turning. Turning to God’s kingdom—and therefore being able to proclaim and reveal God’s kingdom—is sometimes simply our own humble awareness of our need of God’s grace. Our helplessness, our realization of our utter reliance upon God is our way into the fullness of Easter.

“Turn, then, and live,” says Ezekiel. To have the mind of Christ is to be willing to turn, to empty ourselves of despair. To have the mind of Christ is to know that even the chief priests, the elders, whoever we are most afraid of, can turn, and live.

To have the mind of Christ is to understand prayer as that most powerful, turning, self-emptying action we know, the response to God and to the world, emptying ourselves through prayer and longing to join with the world and say God, help us. That is a kind of turning. It is this movement. This is especially important to remember in this time of global pandemic, pandemic that is not ending any time soon. To continue with the Narnia metaphor, sometimes because of Covid I don’t even think we’re in Narnia, where it is always winter, never Christmas. Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in the wardrobe. To have the mind of Christ is to break out into the forest even if it is dark and cold, and to know that we are not alone, and that there are others, for whom our presence means that they are not alone. To be with one another in prayer, to show up in this imperfect “Hollywood Squares” space—is to continue in this downwardly mobile movement  and to hope in the triumph of Easter, the defeat of despair that has in fact already happened because in spite of the very real 2020 feeling that it is always Lent and never Easter, we do in fact live and move and have our being on the other side of the Cross, and it is, in fact, always Easter.