Paul's hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 is perhaps the most ancient liturgical hymn in the New Testament. Paul took an existing hymn and inserted it into this letter. The hymn is precious because it gives insight into Christ's attitude to the Father, even amid his suffering.
And the hymn admonishes us that our attitude to God should be similar to Christ's! Christ's attitude in the Gospels is caught by the Aramaic word "abba," "father." Abba is the word that a child uses to address a loving Father. Though Paul, and ourselves, believe that Christ enjoyed equality with God, this equality did not affect the way Christ related to God. He related to God in the same total trust and dependency and obedience that a child has for a loving parent.
This attitude is caught most dramatically in Christ's prayers to God, especially in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father (Abba), if it is your will take this chalice away from me, but not my will but yours be done." And the Philippian hymn insists that this attitude of dependency, trust and obedience remained constant in Christ even unto accepting his death, and death on the cross.
But then the hymn moves to a surprising connection between trust and transformation. Because of Christ's dependency, trust and obedience to God, God highly exalted him and established him in his glorified state so that every tongue may now proclaim "Jesus Christ is Lord" -- and as Lord equal to the Father! Christ's sufferings and death did not separate him from God but rather as the occasion for his unconditional openness and trust in his Father culminated in his resurrection and glorification!
Christ has given us Christians an example of how to handle sufferings.
No suffering, no matter how great, need be the occasion for separation
from God. Rather all suffering handled in openness and trust of our
Father (Abba) can be the occasion for our own transformation. I believe
the very heart of the Christian message is identifying with Christ in handling
our suffering. Can't we each testify from our own experiences that
our sufferings have deepened our trust in God as well as our
empathy with our fellow human beings (who also suffer)? It's the
paschal mystery: through Good Friday to Easter Sunday. And so the
cross of Christ has always been the central symbol of the Christian faith.
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