The Incarnation and Crucifixion: Bookends of Christ's Love Story
The great early Christian hymn that Saint Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) has long been one of my favorites. I have loved singing “Jesus the Lord” by Roc O’Connor SJ through the years. The hymn and Fr. O’Connor’s song still evoke in me strong emotions in awe of God’s love and thanksgiving for God’s gift of God’s self.
This great hymn incorporates the two major sacrifices of Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation and Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross are bookends of the story of Christ’s great love and sacrifice for us.
In the Incarnation, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, our God, emptied himself of his Godliness and took on the slavery of human flesh. For us he took on the boundaries of space and time and embraced all of the effects of humanity. He had to eat and drink and sleep. He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). He experienced joy and sorrow. He laughed and cried. He experienced physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. Our God knew exactly what we go through in our human experience and still made the choice to become human and sacrifice God’s very self for our good.
I love what Saint Athanasius says about the Incarnation: “The Divine became human so that humans might realize their divinity.” We are created in the image and likeness of God. We have Divine DNA flowing through our bodies and our spirits.
Today’s reading from Philippians 2 begins with verse 6, going right into the hymn. Verse 5 gives us a context for why Paul is including this great hymn: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” Paul is exhorting the Philippians – and us – to think like Jesus, to have the same attitude as Christ. When we have the same attitude as Christ, we live like Christ: humbly, selflessly, forsaking our needs for the good of others.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the other bookend of God’s love story, is the ultimate example of what it means to be humble and completely selfless. Jesus accepted the agony of being tortured and crucified for us. He could have walked away from Gethsemane. He could have called down his angels to fight for him. But he didn’t. He chose to be tortured and die an excruciating death to show us that God will give and do anything to be in intimate relationship with us.
As we journey through this Holy Week, let us reflect on Christ’s sacrifice of becoming human and dying on the cross. May we consider how we are living in response to that great gift of self-giving love. When we come to the cross on Good Friday, let us give glory and praise to Christ for his sacrifices, for his taking on our humanity and suffering his passion to open the doors of reconciliation with God so that we, like him, might be resurrected into eternal life.