Sacrifice is nothing new for Christians. It is a topic worth thinking about on this Feast of the Holy Cross. Today’s Collect, our Prayer for this Sunday, sums it up pretty well: “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him…” It was Jesus’ willingness to “give up himself for us” that brought us our salvation and the gift of new life!
We see it preeminently on the Cross, of course, in Jesus’ willingness to die for what he believed in and for us. And that’s not some morbid thing as certain theories of the atonement might suggest. It is a beautiful thing! When Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32), he was suggesting that he was about to make the same kind of heroic self-sacrifice we see when a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades, when a mother gives the last of her meager food supply to her children so that they might live instead of her, or when 4th century Christians like Saint Agnes and St. Alban gave up their lives rather than deny their Christian faith!
Jesus, the Son of God, was prepared to do the same kind of thing – The Living God, Incarnate in Jesus, was prepared to do that for us! But Jesus had been preparing for it all his life! He gave up the comfort of a fairly middle class existence in order to live a life of poverty. He gave up the security of home and family for the life of an itinerant preacher and prophet. And he gave up a protected life of silence and complicity to challenge the religious establishment of his day and the brutality of an occupying Roman government which oppressed his people. The Cross was only the last, most significant “sacrifice” that Jesus offered on our behalf. But it was a monumental sacrifice nonetheless…because he risked, and offered, his very life!
God loves us so much that not even death could destroy his solidarity with us! God in Christ was willing to die…rather than leave us alone. So, the question becomes: if God was willing to do that for us, what are willing to do for God? St. Paul attempts an answer this morning in his Letter to the Philippians: “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 something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, 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.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Did you hear those first twelve words? Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus! If Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – not only on the Cross but throughout his whole life – and if that sacrifice was for us, what are we willing to sacrifice for him? Are we willing to sacrifice a little of our time to worship God every week and to take advantage of educational and ministry opportunities offered through this parish?
Are we willing to sacrifice, make an offering of, some of our talents and gifts and abilities in the service of others (volunteer at a soup kitchen or as a tutor or as a Big Brother or Big Sister, visit the sick or the elderly or the lonely)? Are we willing to sacrifice some of our material wealth and comfort to help out people less fortunate than ourselves at home and abroad? Would it really be so hard to “live more simply; so that others might simply live?”
Well, I think that’s what “letting the same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us” means. I think it’s what the line in our Collect (which originally came from Jesus) about “taking up our cross and following him” really means. It means that we should be so grateful for the sacrifice Jesus offered for us, that we are willing to sacrifice for him. And the way we do that is to make sacrifices for others since “inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of these…we have done it unto him!”
I hope you’ll think a little bit about sacrifice this week. Again, not in a morbid, grudging way, but as an act of gratitude, of thanksgiving to the One who gave you everything…and gave up everything for you? What sacrifice can you make for your family? What sacrifice can you make for your church, for your diocese? What sacrifice can you make for your community? What sacrifice can you make for your country? What sacrifice can you make for the world?
Well, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…and you’ll know!
Because “the light is with you for a little longer,” he once said, “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 21:35-36)