By Rebecca Hall
This Sunday’s Epistle reading from Philippians reminds me of sewing. I don’t sew. But years ago I made enough attempts to understand how patterns work. You cut the shape of your garment out of tissue-like paper with printed lines for guidance. You may be making a small, medium, or large. The size can differ, but the shape is the same. You pin the pattern to the fabric and cut out the shape. If discipleship is trying to live like Christ, then our lives are like the cut fabric in this metaphor. We are all (thankfully) completely unique, yet we all strive for a Christ-like shape.
In this letter to the Philippians Paul is reminding them about what a life that has a Christ-like shape looks like. The love Paul has for these people is evident, but he still spends three chapters exhorting them to unity and cautioning against division and arguments. Clearly, even these generous people are prone to quarreling and promoting their own agendas.
In our reading for Sunday Paul re-iterates what the shape of Christ is.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave (or servant)
being born in human likeness
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the father.
Paul boils the gospel down into a few poetic lines that map out a pattern for living our lives. Jesus, though he was divine and equal to God, did not use that to his own advantage. Being equal to God means having access to divine power, divine status, and divine authority. Jesus was actually way more powerful than those who killed him. But, he did not exploit access to these for his own personal benefit. He used them for the common good, to spread the Good News. Not his will, but God’s.
Living a Christ-shaped life calls for constant discernment on our parts. We also have authority, power, and status. Maybe not everywhere, or in every relationship, or in every situation. But, that’s the discernment – where do we hold these? Where are we on the top of the pile? Where do we hold more power and influence than the other people? And how do we choose to use these? Living a Christ-shaped life calls for us to give up our power, status, and authority for the good of the whole, to be servants to one another (*note that those with less are not called to give up what little they have for those more powerful).
Holy Week is upon us. And the liturgies and the practices illustrate for us the shape of Christ. The foot washing – Jesus on his knees in front of Peter, the trial, the stations of the cross, and finally the crucifixion. All of these are shaped like Christ. But they’re not the end of the story. Resurrection is God’s promise to us. If we live lives that are shaped like Christ the end of our story will bring something we never could have imagined, but we know it will be new and beautiful and good.