18 April 2017

The Resurrection and the œconomy of kenōsis

In this Bright Week we are celebrating the rising from the tomb of Our Lord. Having witnessed the Pascha and the Holy Fire as it was brought out from the altar this year, let me tell you that it is a truly sublime experience – eerie, otherworldly, awe-inspiring. Just as it should be when a dead man returns, past all human expectation or hope, back to life. The Resurrection is an interruption; indeed, it is a eucatastrophic overturn of the entirety of our experience of reality, and the Liturgy breaks upon us in exactly the same fashion – shaking us wholly out of our routines and our mundane understandings of creation. This eucatastrophe, this overturn, of the entire fallen order – this utter defeat of death, the one certainty of that fallen order – has profound implications across the entirety of our lived experience. Why, then, in light of this bold defiance of death and Hell by the Son of Man, should we then be hesitant to speak a few words on how it impacts (or should impact) the material dimension of our lives?

It is to be understood, first, that the Incarnation, and secondly that the Crucifixion, are both acts of sublime self-emptying (or kenōsis, to use the Greek). The very Logos of God – that is to say, the divine and eternal principle which underwrites the entirety of the created order from the beginning – limited Himself, confined Himself within a suffering, bleeding, ageing, mortal human body, descended into the existence of a poor, working-class Jewish man under Roman rule. He took on Himself every single one of our physical and emotional weaknesses – hungering, thirsting, heat and cold, anger and fear – with the exception of sin. And for the sake of the world He gave Himself up to mockery and public scorn, to be subjected to the most humiliating and excruciating forms of public execution reserved for enemies of the Emperor, traitors and bandits. And thus He died. The ultimate expression of self-emptying love.

And then happened the Resurrection on the third day, the appearance of Christ to His forlorn, demoralised and distraught disciples. In the flesh, so to speak.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
So speaks Saint John Chrysostom directly to us, every year on the Paschal feast. These are words of comfort, especially to someone like me who has been so lax and so out of tune with the season. The great Church Father was deeply sensitive to the impact this new reality, this eucatastrophe that renders death powerless and overturns the iron laws of necessity, and his approach to ethics is undergirded entirely by this impact. A reality in which the human, mortal, dying face of God, the face of Christ in each person, is elevated to the eternal, inescapable either now or in the hereafter, Chrysostom comes to understand care for the poor and powerless as all the more pressing:
Let us men imitate the women [who went to the tomb]; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations. For they for Him even dead spent so much and exposed their lives, but we neither feed Him when hungry, nor clothe Him when naked, but seeing Him begging, we pass Him by!
Instead of the reality of the Resurrection being a cause for nonchalance in our care for the very least of our brothers, Chrysostom saw it instead as a call to deepen and intensify the work of Christ in the world and for us to become active participants in that work. The importance of material acquisition in this life, the expectations of enjoyment of œconomic goods here and now, pale utterly and shrink before the demands of the salvific labour in kenōsis to which the Cross and the empty Tomb call us!
The purpose of His dying was not that He might hold us liable to punishment and in condemnation, but that He might do good unto us. For this cause He both died and rose again, that He might make us righteous.
For this reason, taking into account the wise words of the Holy Father John Chrysostom, let us continue to meditate on both the grace that the Resurrection extends to us and also the challenge: that we might become participants in an œconomy of love and an œconomy of kenōsis, rather than continuing in the hopeless logic of death and succumbing to the capitalistic œconomy of philautia (self-love) which our fallen nature and our fallen culture mire us in.

No comments:

Post a Comment