The Journey to Resurrection
(Lent, Holy Week and Easter in a Monastery) Day 6 Kenosis
“Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,”
Tonight we begin again that saga and journey to Jerusalem as we start the Holy Week activities at the Monastery. First Vespers for Palm Sunday are Solemn yet Somber. The Monastery has had many visitors today and I imagine many will stay for the prayers and Palm Sunday Mass Sunday Morning.
I was in Munich overnight and visited the Cathedral and a few other historical churches downtown. Most of the churches have now veiled all their crosses and some of their images which is an ancient tradition in sign of mourning but also observing a “fast of the eyes” between now and Easter.
One of the great themes of Holy Week is “kenosis”. The greek word taken from the second letter of Paul to the Philippians. It is the canticle that most expresses the meaning of this Solemn Week and Jesus giving himself over as a sacrificial offering for the life of the world.
The word Kenosis means “emptying of oneself”. The humble action of Christ to pour out himself in taking on our humanity and his humble servanthood in his public ministry and his “final solution” which was his death on a cross in total sacrifice and self giving.
The kenotic ethic is the ethic of Jesus, considered as the ethic of sacrifice. The Philippians passage urges believers to imitate Christ’s self-emptying. In this interpretation, Paul was not primarily putting forth a theory about God in this passage, rather he was using God’s humility exhibited in the incarnation event as a call for Christians to be similarly subservient to others.
This self emptying is indeed one of the basic principles of Christian living. St Benedict elaborates on it in the Section of the Rule on Humility. Every Monk is expected to follow the footsteps of Jesus
In his Divine Humility. It is an emptying of oneself in obedience to the rule, to the superiors of the community and mostly to God whom we must serve unreservedly and without delay. We must “allow God to do his will in us and let us allow God to be what he wants to be in us”. (Meister Eckhart)
This is a lifetime process exemplified in all of the events of Holy Week starting with the events of Palm Sunday.
We have been listening every morning to a reflection by Henri Nouwen at Vigils
Jere in the Monastery. He and his life was a living example of Kenosis.
Nouwen went on a sojourn through Latin America, thinking he would give his life in service to the poor, but he could not force a sense of call in the slums of South America. When he returned to the US, he remembered invitation to come live at the L’Arche community a very strange living situation set up by Roman Catholic priests and lay people. Able-bodied and disabled people share life together, spending time in meals and at prayer, living side by side. The group started in France and has grown into an international organization.
Henri spoke and wrote often of his first months with the folks at L’Arche. He spoke of his time with Adam, a young man who was so disabled that he could not speak, or get himself out of bed, bathe himself, dress himself. Henri wrote about how terrified he was during his first weeks with Adam, how frightened he was that at any moment while Henri was trying to lift or dress the fully grown man, he might errupt in an epileptic seizure. He talked about the patience required to sit with Adam over the course of the hour it would take him to eat his meals. Nouwen wrote about how it got easier, about how eventually the anxiety faded, the need to get everything right fell away.
“Adam taught me a lot about God’s love in a very concrete way. First of all, he taught me that being is more important than doing, that God wants me to be with God and not to do all sorts of things to prove that I’m valuable. My whole life had been doing, doing, doing, so people would finally recognize that I was okay. I’m such a driven person who wants to do thousands and thousands of things so that I can somehow finally show that I’m a worthwhile being. People say, “Henri, you’re okay.” Here I was with Adam and Adam said, “I don’t care what you do as long as you will be with me.” It wasn’t easy just to be with Adam. It isn’t easy to simply be with a person without accomplishing much.”
After months with Adam Nouwen wrote of a particular moment when he “suddenly realized that Adam was not just a disabled person, less human than me or other people. He was a fully human being, so fully human that God even chose him to become the instrument of God’s love. He was so vulnerable, so weak, so empty, that he became just heart, the heart where God wanted to dwell, where God wanted to stay and where God wanted to speak to those who came close to God’s vulnerable heart. Adam was a full human being, not half human or less human. I discovered that. Suddenly I understood what I had heard in Latin America about the preferential option for the poor. Indeed, God loves the poor and God loves Adam very specially. God wanted to dwell in his broken person so that God could speak from that vulnerability into the world of strength, and call people to become vulnerable.”
That is Kenosis, that is self-emptying. Henri Nouwen learned it from Adam, and shared it with us.
As Christians we practice Kenosis daily through our Service to others. We wash each others feet out of loving humility and service to the other. We recognize the divine found in the life of our neighbor no matter who she or he is. We see the divinity of God in the face if the other and practice Hospitality. We welcome ALL as Christ.
There is no turning back. As the Solemn events of the last days of Christ unfold, we enter with Jesus in humble estate on a donkey. We are fools for Christ.