‘Kenosis’ – Why would I begin my Chapter Talk on this Sixth Sunday of Easter with this word and image? I have been reading an essay in the periodical Spiritus where the author is referring to the work of the Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. In this essay the author is saying that Levinas describes ‘kenosis’ as the “humility of greatness” and this is from his reading of it in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud (p.31), not the Christian New Testament! We are almost at the end of the Easter season and what came to me was that there is no resurrection, no risen life without ‘kenosis’. Our immense gift is that we have Jesus, the One who has gone before us, who lived fully and completely this ‘humility of greatness’, and who shows us the way to follow him.
St. Paul’s introduction to the Philippians prayer reflects this so well: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing…Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (2:1-2,5). We are to take on the same attitude and posture that was in Christ; we are to grow into the same mind (consciousness) and heart of Christ. Next we hear described what isthe attitude and mind of Christ: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself…” (2:6). This was how Jesus lived as evidenced in the gospels beginning with his baptism and throughout his entire ministry where his kenosis involves placing the ‘will of God’ first in all that he is and does. To embrace the will of his Abba Jesus continually had to live this kenotic experience of self-emptying, of surrender. Jesus’ kenosis is an integral part of his resurrection and it is an integral part of the love that he loves us with.
In turning to the gospel of this Sunday Jesus is saying to us: “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:9-10). What is this love that Jesus calls us to remain in? It is a love that has no self-interest; it is an unrequited love, not expecting anything in return. In its essence it is a love that has been transformed by this kenotic experience of surrender, of self-emptying, of offering one’s life freely with no strings attached or conditions put on the offering. Jesus freely offered his life to his Abba and this is the greatest expression of love: ‘not my will but your will’, ‘not to my glory but to the glory of Him who sent me’. And in turn he offered his very Self to us: ‘This is my body, this is my blood given for you’.
Jesus tells us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves…” (Jn 15:13-15a). To lay down one’s life daily for the ‘Other’: for God, for one another, for the life of our world. This act of ‘laying down one’s life’ involves a quality of loving where we are growing into the attitude that was in Christ: surrender to the God of love…we lay our life down out of choice…we lay it down, an immense gesture of love, not grasping for any recognition, for any payback. The outcome of the act of laying down of our life for the ‘other’ is that love grows…God’s love is made real and concrete and we do not know how far the ripples of this purified, transformed love extends.
In this process of our loving as Jesus loved in our deeds, we become his ‘friend’ and this describes an amazing relationship with God: one of mutuality, one of partnership, one of intimacy. Br. Christophe in his journal, Born From the Gaze of God, quotes the former Abbot General, Dom Bernardo Olivera as saying: “The Eucharistic prayer is a communion in mutual self-surrender and mutual welcome. That way the word of the Lord is fulfilled: ‘You in me and I in you’” (p.50). And Christophe in his own desire to follow Jesus’ command to love, including one’s enemies, prays for “a heart that is detached, ungrasping: surrendered” (p.143). This is, is it A heart that is ‘detached, ungrasping, surrendered’ is ready to lay down its life, ready to live the Love that is at the center of the Paschal Mystery. And this is the ‘humility of greatness.’not, how we live the Easter mystery, the risen life, which reveals in our ordinary, imperfect lives the love of Jesus and his Abba?