14 September 2017

Philippians 2 6-11

“[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as 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.” (vv. 6-8)

Psalm: Psalm 22


Today is Holy Cross Day, which may not be a familiar to those in the Methodist Church. Its history is somewhat confusing, although it is traditionally linked to the dedication on 14 September 335 of some buildings in Jerusalem by Emperor Constantine - these were supposedly on the site of the crucifixion and the tomb in which Jesus was buried. The building was supervised by Constantine's mother Helena and during the excavation of the site a relic was found which was believed to be the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. The feast day was first observed by the Eastern Church and then by the Roman Catholic Church from the 16th century onwards.

Today's passage seems to be the words of an early Christian hymn spelling out the humility and obedience of Christ. They reflect the words at the beginning of John's Gospel that long before his human birth Christ humbled himself and exchanged his equality with God to take up the nature of a slave by his ministry on the earth, a slavery which is completed in the humiliation of his death on the cross. From verse 9 onwards the words tell of God's action in taking him to himself and making him a person of reverence and worship.

In more recent times the wider denominations of the Christian Church have begun to mark the festival, including the Episcopal Church in the United States who see it as an opportunity for a day of prayer and worship of Christ triumphant through his resurrected life. The hymn Lift high the cross is particularly significant for a time of contemplation on this day.

To Ponder

  • To what extent are feast days such as Holy Cross Day of value in concentrating the mind on a particular aspect of faith? Or are they a phenomenon outside of the understanding of our more protestant faith? Why?
  • How helpful are the words of Lift high the cross in raising your understanding of the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ?
  • Should we be more open in setting aside special days to concentrate on particular aspects of our faith rather than just focusing on the major festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost? Which additional special days would you focus on?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pat Billsborrow

Pat Billsborrow is a supernumerary minister in the Northwich and Winsford Circuit, and is at present part of a district ministry team working within that circuit with pastoral care of four churches. She is ecumenical officer in the Cheshire part of the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District.