What does this mean?
Palm Sunday is also Confirmation Day for many congregations in our Wisconsin Synod. Over the course of two or three years of study, how many times have our catechumens been asked that question: What does this mean?
Holy Week asks us that question in the most powerful of ways. We see Jesus giving himself to his disciples in his Supper. The Son of God abandoned by the Father; the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. We see Christ the Firstfruits rising from the dead. It’s thousands of years of prophecy fulfilled in three days. It’s what we gather to celebrate every week.
So what does this mean?
Philippians 2 gives us the answer so we can be ready for those days. St. Paul writes: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus doesn’t just show us a good way to live. He shows us the way that life really works. Living the way Jesus did in the first half of this section – humbling himself for the sake of others – doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the path of a loser (and indeed, seemed to end in loss). When Paul points to Christ’s victory, he isn’t just saying, “Jesus did this in love of you, so you should do it, too.” He is giving us confidence to follow him. Sure, having this attitude might bring pain and loss and hardship in this world, but it won’t end there. What we see in Holy Week means that Christ’s attitude and actions truly are the way of God, the way that leads to glory and victory. It means we can boldly follow Jesus to glory.
But you won’t do it perfectly. That’s why verse 6 is such a comfort. It wasn’t that equality with God wasn’t “something to be grasped”; but that it wasn’t “something to hold on to.” Jesus saw perfect, unending glory with God in heaven, and he saw us. He couldn’t hold onto both. So he let go of his glory for a time so that he could hold on to us forever.
Do you fail to have his attitude? Do you still puff yourself up with pride? Does it seem impossible to keep living this way? Jesus will never let go of you. He’s there to lift you up and restore you, wash away your sins and lead you by the hand again.
God became a man. He suffered. He died. He rose in triumph. What does this mean? Follow him. Follow him knowing that living in this kind of love and service is walking the path of God. Follow him knowing that when you falter or fail, your Savior will never let go of you.