The Epistle. Philippians 2. 5.
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: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Many years ago, I had the distinct honor to serve under the late Archbishop William O. Lewis, sometime Bishop of this Diocese and Rector Emeritus at St. Paul’s, Grand Rapids. From that experience, I have retained any number of lessons; from how to be liturgically “High Church”, to how clergy should properly comport themselves. But the greatest lesson I learned from Archbishop Lewis was what it means to be a servant.
I distinctly remember when then Bishop Lewis was translated from the Diocese of the Midwest to the Diocese of the South. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to move so far away from his family and friends in the Midwest. But he recognized that it was his duty; that he had been called and guided by the Holy Spirit, through the needs of the Church, to go and serve a Diocese that was, at that time, in great turmoil; he humbled himself and subordinated his desires and needs to the needs of the Church and the Will of God. He took as his example the Sacrifice of Christ.
In the Old Testament Christ is sometimes depicted as the “Suffering Servant”, as was foretold in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). This depiction of Christ is echoed in the opening words of St. John’s Gospel, “He was in the world, and the world knew him not; he came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10).
He was not received by his own because Jesus Christ, the Messiah, did not come in the expected form; as a powerful king and liberator of military might. Instead, he came as an example of what God wants for us; as a servant and therefore a liberator. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
What greater service can there be? During the recitation of the Passion today, we heard how Our Lord just stood there while he was accused, then beaten, then put to death. Just a few days earlier the multitude had been cheering him, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), and now the crowd is shouting “crucify him!”. No, we are shouting, “crucify him!”. And yet, he just stands there. “and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.”
He stands there because he knows that even after everything he’s done, all the miracles; the healings, raising from the dead, turning water into wine, feeding thousands; he still has one last duty, one last service to perform. And to that service, he is “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”.
Throughout the Gospels we are told that only the man who humbles himself will be exalted; Matthew 23:12, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted”. Luke 18:14, “for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”. We must therefore conclude that humility and obedience are the hallmarks of a Christian life. These are the characteristics of a servant. And so we must also conclude that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah; Our Lord, Our King, is the supreme example of a servant.
“Now wait a minute”, you may be thinking. “Is it possible, is it conceivable that God Incarnate serves”? It is not only conceivable, it is awe-inspiring. It is not only conceivable, it is reality. It is not only conceivable, it is THE example for us; for all mankind. It is not only conceivable, but it continues to this day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is not only conceivable, but it is our duty as well.
We are reminded, of course of these duties throughout the New Testament; the duties of a servant; feeding, clothing, comforting. But St. Paul also reminds us that how we carry out our duties, and why, is also important; “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2: 14&15).
In other words, just as Our Lord stood there, accused but blameless, that True Light that came into the world to save sinners, we too must stand blameless in the face of a world that would persecute us. We must do it with all humility, and we must do it with a glad heart, knowing that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). And we can achieve this if we join with every tongue that would “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). That is called being a servant.
If this sounds tough, well, it’s really not. We do not have to be necessarily special to serve; “but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men”. We already are special. We are the servants of Christ. As Christ served all mankind, so also do we serve all mankind. How far, how long, in what way? Well, the example of Our Lord was “even the death of the cross”. So you decide; how far?
As we enter now into Holy Week, as we remember Christ’s Institution of the Mass, his trial, his Suffering and his Death, I ask that you also remember his ultimate service; and that you find it in your hearts to likewise be his servants. I remind you of your Lenten disciplines and I ask you to thoughtfully consider whether you have undertaken them with all humility and obedience, as a servant of God should.
I also call to your attention the schedule for this week. You have been offered any number of opportunities to seal your Lenten disciplines by your participation in all the Holy Week services. I urge you to make use of these opportunities, but especially on Maundy Thursday, and on Good Friday; when we remember that Holy Sacrifice, that supreme example of service to God and to all of mankind, that was offered by Our Lord and Savior who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.