By Rev. Sarah Odderstol

Truly this man was God’s son!

I am hearing this story differently this year. You know how a familiar landmark can look different depending on the direction from which you approach it? Biblical stories are the same way for me. Depending on my mood or my life situation, Bible stories I have heard over and over can suddenly come alive in new ways and I hear new meaning.

Likely because the world does not feel as safe as it did a month ago…because merely going to the grocery store puts my life and the lives of others at risk, I look at Jesus’ decision to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in new light.

We know the end of this story…yes, Jesus dies in this part of the story but next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection so it is very easy to gloss over the suffering. The stories of the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus’ death are often referred to as the Passion Stories. Passion comes from the Latin word for suffering.

A month ago, I didn’t have go to much effort to ignore suffering in the world. Now suffering stalks us in our own neighborhoods.

Perhaps because they were closer in time to the events of the Passion stories in a time when crucifixion was still a grim reality…or perhaps because their lives were just so hard, early Christians marveled at Jesus’ ability to endure and persevere. They wrote hymns about it.

In our reading from Philippians, Paul quotes an ancient Christian hymn. The hymn sings of Jesus’ presence with God before time…of Jesus’ choice to leave his rightful place with God to come among us in human form…to set aside his powers so he could be like us and fully understand us…the song is about Jesus being so obedient to God’s desire that he be fully human, that Jesus suffered a terrible death.

The early Christians who wrote this hymn celebrated three aspects of Jesus’ character and life: 1) Jesus had a willingness to think of others as more important than himself. Jesus told his followers that he came to serve not to be served. He lived his life caring for “the least of these.”

2) Jesus never used his credentials as God’s son as a get out of jail free card. He was able to set aside his own status to meet us right where we are.

3) Finally, and most importantly, Jesus was obedient. This not the kind of obedience that rises out of fear and threat. Jesus was not afraid God would smote him if he did not do what God told him to do. Jesus’ obedience was rooted in deep and abiding trust in God. Jesus’ obedience was grounded in his experience of God’s love and mercy.

As we were discussing this ancient hymn in or Zoom Bible Study last Wednesday, there was this subtle “ah ha” moment when we realized these characteristics of Jesus are not only what we find ourselves chaffing against in quarantine but they are also the very traits we most need to emulate if we want to survive and thrive in this COVID-19 world.

Shelter-in-place is HARD because we can no longer gather with those make us feel important and recognize our status. Quarantine is challenging because we are asked to be TRULY concerned about the safety of others. Will my friends still need me when this is over? Will my employees still honor my authority? Surely, visiting my sister because I am lonely, won’t hurt… We struggle with obedience that is rooted in fear.

Yet obedience is what will see us safely to the other side of this…obedience that is grounded in trust. We must trust the advice of medical and epidemiological experts. As hard as it is to do sometimes, we must remember that we are all made in the likeness and image of a good and loving God. I will obey shelter in place to protect you because I trust that you will obey shelter in place to protect me. With this kind of trust we will survive COVID-19. Thriving here requires something more – something beyond humans trusting other humans. If we want to thrive, we must trust that God has this. Even now God is working to redeem this and to bring new life.

The ancients were convinced that the only way Jesus recieved new life on the other side of suffering was because of his deep and abiding trust in God.

Truly, this man was God’s son!