5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We sat in her little room in the facility where she lived. She was a dear woman, thick glasses, a ready smile, and always glad to see this young preacher come for a visit. He talked with her. She craved someone to talk to. Her memory was starting to fail, but some things could still be recalled. She remembered the songs she had sung to her children when she put them to bed. She remembered the words to the music she had listened to on the radio as a young woman. She remembered the hymns she had learned at the parochial school.
We use music to adorn our worship, we think it is beautiful and it is. I love a beautiful song about Jesus. I delight in a well-played prelude or postlude. The first generation of Christians, however, would have put value on what I saw in this dear old parishioner. Music is eminently memorable. Can you remember the songs which were being played on the radio when you were in high school? You probably can. How many decades ago was that? The earliest Christians were often illiterate, most people were. They had to memorize things to keep them. They could not write them down and read them again later. So they sang them and remembered them. For this reason, poets were valued members of the society. Paul is quoting a song here. We no longer have the tune, but when this letter was read aloud in the congregation at Philippi, there would have been a tune running in the minds of the people who listened. As if I were to quote, “Jesus loves me this I know…” You have a melody in your head. Paul uses this song because they all knew it. He might have taught it to them when he spent time there. They would have set to music the most important parts of their faith, turned them into songs to make it easier to remember. This is one of the oldest explicitly Christian songs we have. It is entirely about Jesus and what he has done. He starts in heaven, humbles himself to the point of death as a wretched slave, on a cross. But he rises, is seated at God’s right hand, and rules the cosmos. This narrative arc, from heaven to cross and death and back to heaven again was at the core of the early Christian faith. It remains so for us. Notice the same narrative arc in the second article of the Apostles Creed we confess. The words are slightly different, but the distance travelled, and the shape of Jesus’ journey is exactly the same.