Dear Friends,

In her 2009 book, The Case for God, Karen Armstrong argued that religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of the mind and heart. What new capacities of the mind and heart might we cultivate during the holiest week of the Christian Year?

Holy Week begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday. Most of the scriptural “airtime” on Palm Sunday is given over to the stories of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion, suffering and death. Because of this, we might miss the practical discipline St. Paul offers us. In his letter to converts in Philippi in what is now Asia Minor, Paul quotes a hymn that was, evidently, already well-known to Christian communities. Armstrong writes, “. . . from this very early date (c. 54-57) Christians saw Jesus’ life as a kenosis, a humble ‘self-emptying.’”

Here’s what Paul wrote to the Philippians – in contemporary English: “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.”

This coming Sunday morning, bread will be broken, and wine poured out in remembrance of the one who emptied himself for our sake. He did not seek to save his own life but lost it and is alive for evermore. If we can begin to imitate Jesus’ kenosis – his self-emptying – in the details of our own lives, our hearts will open in response to Christ’s great love for us. They will open to the pain and suffering we see all around us. They will open to those who are on the margins of society. And they will even open to our enemies and those who wish us harm.

Imitating Christ is not without cost, but Jesus tells us that “those who lose their lives for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, will find them.”


Stephen Applegate

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