Posts Tagged 'Philippians 2:5-11'

For Dec. 28, 2014: Holy Name of Jesus

The Reading                                                            Numbers 6:22-27

The book of Numbers, named for the first census of the Israelites after their departure from Egypt, tells their journey from the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan. Here the Lord explains how the priests of Aaron are to bless God’s people: by putting God’s name on them.

The Response                                                           Psalm 8

Psalm 8 responds to God’s activity in Creation with wonder and praise. The God whose Word creates (as one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it) “galaxies, suns, the planets in the courses, and this fragile Earth” is the God who bends low to you and me—and the God who calls us to care just as tenderly for Earth and its resources.

The Epistle                                                               Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 may be a very ancient hymn of the Church. This luminous passage names Jesus as God and human, humbled and then exalted, with the Name to which every knee shall bow as we saints below join in praise with the saints above, world without end.

The Gospel                                                               Luke 2:15-21

As Luke tells it, angels impart the great good news of the birth of the Savior to shepherds, and these rough outsiders hasten to adore him. Eight days later, in accordance with Jewish law (Genesis 17:9-14), the boy is circumcised and given the name Jesus, as the angel had told Mary in Luke 1:31 (and Joseph in Matthew 1:21).

 

Further thoughts

The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 1, eight days after Christmas Day; the timing reflects the practice of circumcising and formally naming a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life in accordance with the Torah. This feast day raises some interesting issues in naming and inclusion.

In both tellings of the Annunciation, the angel tells one of the child’s earthly parents to name him Jesus. Matthew 1:21 adds a bit: the angel says, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The comment makes sense in Hebrew: the name would be Yeshua, a shortening of Yehoshua, which combines the YHW– element that refers to the Lord with a verb that means ‘deliver, save, rescue’. The name was then rendered into Greek (in which there is no “sh” sound, and the letter y is used solely as a vowel) as Iēsous Ιησουσ, with an –s suffix to make it masculine gender and a long e pronounced as in Spanish. Latin adopted this as Iesus.

As lower-case scripts emerged in Europe, a “swash” form of the letter I, with a curly tail, came into use at the beginning of a word before a vowel, yielding the occasional spelling Jesus. This letter J was not a fully separate letter in English until the 17th century, however, so the first edition of the King James Bible (1611) still spells the name Iesus. By that time, the French shift in pronunciation from “y” to “soft g” before a vowel, in progress as of the beginning of the twelfth century, had become standard in English. All that remained to produce the current pronunciation of Jesus was the Great Vowel Shift that has given English long e the pronunciation it has today.

Jesus has two other titles of interest: Messiah and Christ. We tend to think of Messiah as meaning ‘savior’, but the Aramaic word meshiach, borrowed into Greek and then Roman as messias, means ‘anointed’. It turns out that Christ means the same thing: it comes from Greek khristos ‘anointed one’. Jesus was first called crist (no H, no capitalization) in English no later than 830 AD; speakers of Old English were likelier to call Jesus Hæland ‘savior’ or more literally ‘healer’. Of course, none of those is a name he was given at birth.

Circumcision according to the Torah marks a boy as fully a Jew, a member of the community. It also marks Jesus as fully human and submissive to the Law. The apostle Paul—also a Jew who had been circumcised—concluded that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles. Instead, what marks a fellow Christian as “ours” is anointing at baptism and at confirmation. The ritual embraces those of us who are not equipped for circumcision as well as all who are not Jews. This shift thus emphasizes the extension of grace through Jesus to all peoples. But what if the shift also stands as a reminder to me to rise to the challenge of being as nearly Christ as I can to all people, seeing each person through Jesus’ eyes and loving each one as “ours”?

For Sept. 14, 2014: Holy Cross Day

The Reading            Isaiah 45:21-25

Isaiah 45:21-25 is a ringing announcement from the mouth of the Lord: beside the Lord, there is no other god, no other source of righteousness, no other option for salvation, no one else worth bowing to, no other place to go for correction, and no other true source of glory for all God’s people.

The Response            Psalm 98:1-4

Isaiah 45:21-25 proclaims the greatness of the Lord from the Lord’s point of view. Psalm 98 resounds in response: the Lord’s victory is obvious to all the earth, the Lord’s righteousness is on display—and yet it pleases God over all to recall and act in mercy and faithfulness to God’s people.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 explains lyrically just how God triumphs on our behalf: through the willingness of the pure and righteous Son of God to be born a nobody, be wrongly convicted of blasphemy, and disgraced on the Roman Empire’s most hideous means of capital punishment—which we now revere as the Holy Cross.

The Gospel            John 12:31-36a

John 12:20-33 is familiar from the last Sunday of Lent in Year B. As Passover approaches, Jesus predicts his death as human and exaltation as God. In verse 34, the crowd shows its narrower understanding of what it means to be Messiah. Jesus responds indirectly in telling them that right now is the time to seek the Light.

Further thoughts

Holy Cross Day commemorates scandal and shame. While there is some question as to its exact appearance—the Greek word stauros ‘pole or rod’ in Philippians 2:8 and similar words elsewhere don’t exclusively denote a cross made of two intersecting beams—there is no doubt that hanging on a stauros was intended to inflict public humiliation and degradation even beyond death. It was a particularly shocking punishment in Judea; Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “anyone hung on a tree”—whether alive or already dead—“is under God’s curse,” and this was reserved for crimes for which stoning would have been too good: high treason and blasphemy. What we behold on Calvary, then, is nothing less than the public spectacle of God under God’s curse. The son of God commits his unaccustomed human frailty to the undeserved horrors of the stauros; the son of Mary bearing God’s righteousness shoulders also the intolerable burden of every thought, word, or deed from Adam and Eve to the end of time that issues the judgment “You just aren’t worth it” to another person—or to oneself. The Victim crucified for shame crucifies shame for us and so frees us to live.

For the message of the cross is that no shame that the world can heap on me, or I on myself, is so deep that God can’t love me back to life, if I can just believe that such grace is not too good to be true for me and for you and act accordingly. Sometimes that means bearing gently and humbly with you and your wounds, so I can live the grace of God for you; sometimes it means humbly letting you deal gently with me and my failings, so that I can receive the grace of God through you. Thus I lay hold of my own stauros, whatever shape it takes today, as Jesus commanded; thus I crucify my own shame on it as I follow Jesus into the light.

For April 13, 2014: Palm Sunday, Year A

1. The Liturgy of the Palms

The Gospel            Matthew 21:1-11

The gospel of Matthew that we read to open the Palm Sunday service tells of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It paraphrases Psalm 118:25-26, which forms part of the Sanctus that we sing most Sundays during the Eucharistic prayer.

The Psalm            Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Psalm 118 is the psalm of praise that includes the verses of praise and triumph that are cited in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

 

2. The Liturgy of the Word

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

The reading from Isaiah is the third of four “songs of the Suffering Servant”. The servant speaks with the authority of a teacher but listens like a student, and submits to God even in the face of insult. It is not clear about whom the passage was originally intended to be, but of course we read it as prophecy about Jesus Christ.

The Response            Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31 is one of the classic psalms of lament. The speaker may be terminally ill or perhaps simply deeply at odds with the rest of the community, but is certainly in crushing distress. Nevertheless, the speaker—like Jesus en route to the cross—declares trust and hope in the Lord.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

Just who the Suffering Servant was thought to be in the time of Isaiah remains unclear. This reading from the letter to the church at Philippi clearly identifies Jesus Christ as God choosing to humble himself even to death. It may be a very ancient hymn. It is certainly a concise and lyrical confession of faith.

The Gospel            Matthew 26:14-27:66

Each gospel’s Passion reading sheds its own light on the sorrow that is the betrayal, framing, mocking, and hideous death of the Son of God. Matthew’s Passion contains interesting nuances: perfidious Judas repents (though he still kills himself), and Pilate is depicted on the horns of an intractable political dilemma.

 

Ponderables

Even if we participate in all the services scheduled for Holy Week, those take up at most a handful of hours of the Triduum, or ‘three days’ between Wednesday sunset and Saturday sunset. Much more common, of course, is that Palm Sunday is the extent of our brush with Holy Week: for the rest of the days, we’re preoccupied by daily obligations plus Easter eggs and preparation for visiting relatives (those we visit and those who visit us).

As we read the Passion gospel, and as we go about our dailinesses… how shall we respond?

The best choice of all and for all might be “Hosanna”. The word is derived from the Hebrew Hoshana, meaning ‘Save us!’

Save us, O Lord, from cheering for the Jesus who kicks butt and not the Jesus whose war steed is, incongruously, a young donkey. Save us from betraying our families, our friends, and others with a kiss—and when (not if) we’ve betrayed them anyway, save us from such grim despair that we slam the door on life. Save us from framing and shaming those who tell us what we didn’t want to hear. Save us from crucifying others again and still on our own unresolved pain.

And save us from the complacency that blinds us both to our own guilt and to the only way past it: the way of the cross.

For March 24, 2013: Palm Sunday, Year C

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Gospel            Luke 19:28-40

Proceeding into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey is a little bit like riding to one’s presidential inaugural on a mountain bike. What kind of king is this, anyway?

The Psalm            Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

Chapters 40 to 56 of the book of Isaiah, written during the exile of God’s people in Babylon, contain four poems called “songs of the suffering servant”. The third of these is today’s reading. The identity of the speaker is unclear, though the fortitude and obedience expressed here cannot help but remind us of Jesus on Good Friday.

The Response            Psalm 31:9-16

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

The reading from Isaiah anticipates today’s Gospel with its rendering of Jesus’ suffering and death at hands like ours. Today’s Epistle reading places the Passion in context: this luminous passage, one of the earliest hymns of the Church, tells of the very Son of God shucking off power and glory to take on human flesh, to serve, to die for all, and to rise to unimaginable greatness.

The Gospel            Luke 22:14-23:56

What kind of king, indeed? Listen and look, and weep.

 

Further thoughts

The Palm Sunday readings are almost identical from one year to the next in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary of the Episcopal Church. Outside in the courtyard or the prayer garden, blessing the palms that will be burned for next Ash Wednesday, we recite Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. Once in church, the Old Testament lesson is always Isaiah 50:4-9a, with its mix of resignation and determination; the psalm is always Psalm 31:9-16, with terror followed by hope; the epistle is always the incandescent Philippians 2:5-11. Only the pairs of gospels change, cycling through the longer or briefer stories of Jesus’ humble yet triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16, or this year’s Luke 19:28-4 with the palms and the variously heartrending Passion accounts of Matthew 26:14- 27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47, and this year’s Luke 22:14-23:56 at the Eucharist.

This near-identity stands in marked contrast to the situation on most Sundays—when all the psalms and readings vary, Year A to Year B to Year C—and that on the handful of days on which the readings are exactly the same no matter which liturgical year it is. Good Friday, one of that handful of days, features the Passion account of John 18:1-19:42.

These are big enough similarities to be intentional. Each of the sets of gospel accounts, while grounded firmly in the history of our inclusion in God’s people and in the glorious outcome, takes a different perspective on this week of hopes horribly dashed only to be fulfilled beyond expectation. The version in the book of Luke keeps Judas off-camera while relating a positive interaction between Jesus and one of the two thieves, and in giving no voices in Pilate’s ears to counter those of the priests and the crowd, it shows us an administrator whose resistance to condemning Jesus is perhaps a bit more his own. These shifts in emphasis are consistent with Luke’s focus on forgiveness and outreach to gentiles. Embedding Luke’s gospel in the Palm Sunday matrix may serve, among other things, to honor even the most stumbling path to Calvary and beyond—whether it’s another’s or our own.

For April 1, 2012: Palm Sunday

THE READING   Isaiah 50:4-9a
Chapters 40 to 56 of the book of Isaiah, written during the exile of God’s people in Babylon, contain four “songs of the suffering servant”, the third of which is today’s reading; the identity of the speaker is unclear, though the fortitude and obedience expressed here cannot help but remind us of Jesus on Palm Sunday.

 

THE EPISTLE    Philippians 2:5-11
Second Lector:
Today’s Epistle passage tells of the very Son of God shucking off power and glory to take on human flesh. The Gospel today continues the story through Jesus’ death and burial; this luminous passage, one of the earliest hymns of the Church, looks beyond.


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