Download or listen to Lenten Midweek III, “Imprinted” (Philippians 3:17-4:1)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lent is the story of a pattern, a mark that has been made on this creation. Beginning in the 1840s, about 250,000 people used wagons to go west to Oregon and California. So many people followed the tracks that some of those marks worn into the earth are visible today, 150 years later. Something like this must happen in our minds when we read, or see, or hear something so many times that it becomes worn into our memories. Scientists who study how the brain works sometimes talk about neurons that fire together and then wire together; that is, connections are made that can be strengthened by repetition of the same experiences or responses. Similarly, Paul says that the Philippians ought to imitate him and others who walk according to the pattern they have from him and the other apostles. In Greek, that pattern is called a “type.” A type is a mark, an imprint, that is made by something else. So a typewriter makes letters on paper by striking it with inked metal letters. Paul has been struck, even physically, with the force of the risen Christ. In Galatians, he even says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (6:17). And now he wants the Philippians to look for those who walk in the mark made by Christ. And that mark, that pattern, that was imprinted on the story of this creation is the cross of Christ. When Lent tells the story of that pattern, only then is it being faithful to the Scriptures. When it tells some other story, perhaps of humans improving themselves, then Lent becomes just one more way that we justify ourselves in the name of religious piety.
Paul is not telling people to do the things he does, or, even less, to be like him. He is telling them that they must be imprinted by the same force that imprinted him. On our hearts imprint your image, blessed Jesus, king of grace! There are others who have remained what they always were: their god is the belly, and their glory is in their shame, because they can only think about things that have to do with this life, this world, this earth, the desires of this body. Are we them? Is our time, our money, our energy, occupied only with what will make us healthy, wealthy, and wise in this world? Are other people, or going to church, or even Jesus only means to a better end for ourselves? Do we worship our physical life instead of worshiping the one from whom we have this life and to whom we must return? Paul is clear: the end of all that is only death and destruction. No matter how pretty you make yourself, no matter how many vitamins, how much exercise, how many operations, this body and that body and every body will lie lifeless in the grave. Go ahead and keep yourself healthy for the sake of your family and your neighbor; but it is not far past there to an idolatry of this life. So many people pour so much into this dying flesh, only to have it all summed up in a half-page obituary and a casket of bones and dust. Worshiping this body and this life end up where all worship of idols ends: in the grave.
How strange to our minds, then, that the true worship of the creator of this body and this life ends in eternal life, exactly what our belly-god worshipers think they want! In Christ, death and life are reversed. The one who seeks to save his life will lose it; the one who loses his life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will save it. All because of the pattern that has been stamped so deeply on this creation by the mark of the cross. On my heart imprint your image, blessed Jesus, king of grace! That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures never may your work erase! We, who so long to live forever, seek life everywhere but where it can be found: the cross of Jesus Christ. Our bodies are marked by death, and life is impossible to us. So the Son, life itself, left eternity and entered time. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). And, raising Him from the dead, God exalted Him to the highest, most glorious place, that people might call this Man God, to the glory of God the Father.
This is the pattern: death, then life. Suffering, then glory. Cross, then resurrection. This is Christ’s pattern, imprinted on Paul and the Apostles, and on all who follow them as they follow the tracks left by Christ. Christ was found in form [schemati] as a man so that we will be trans-formed [metaschematisei]. Christ entered the humiliation of death, which is the end of all sinful man so that our death-humiliated bodies might enter the glory of His life. “Through baptism Christ has taken us into his hands, actually that he may exchange our sinful, condemned, perishable, physical lives for the new, imperishable righteousness and life he prepares for body and soul. Such is the power and the agency exalting us to marvelous glory–something no earthly righteousness of the Law could accomplish. The righteousness of the Law leaves our bodies to shame and destruction; it reaches not beyond physical existence. But the righteousness of Christ inspires with power, making evident that we worship not the body but the true and living God, who does not leave us to shame and destruction, but delivers from sin, death and condemnation, and exalts this perishable body to eternal honor and glory” [http://tinyurl.com/9wnty5o].
We, the Church, are a foreign colony in a strange land, waiting for our Savior-King to come from our true home and transform our humble bodies of death into the likeness of His glorious body of life. By His resurrection, He subjects all things to Himself, even death itself. This is the pattern of Lent, the habit ingrained in the memory of Christ’s body. There is no place for the Christian to stand, except on the “baptized and bloody ground beneath the cross of Jesus Christ” (Timothy Slemmons, “Philippians 3:17-4:1,” Interpretation [Jan 1, 2010], 78). This, beloved, is where we “stand firm in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1). On my heart imprint your image, blessed Jesus, king of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures never may your work erase; let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation [Lutheran Service Book 422].
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/26/13