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Obi-Wan Kenosis

April 2, 2020

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, 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.” Philippians 2:5-8

It’s hard to believe, but I think I made it through seventeen of these Dispatches from a Suburban Pastor in the Midst of a Pandemic without mentioning Star Wars. The streak ends today!

The appointed epistle reading for Palm Sunday this year is the Christ hymn quoted by Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi. These verses (2:6-11) are perhaps the oldest in the New Testament. One can imagine Paul singing these words during his imprisonment, both to keep up his own spirits and to proclaim the gospel to his captors.

The Christ hymn succinctly tells the story of Jesus, and at its center is the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying. What does Jesus do? He pours himself out. He leaves heaven, becomes human, remains obedient, and willingly accepts death on the cross. Contrary to our notions of power and glory, it is in the pure renunciation of power and glory that actual power and glory are found.

Kenosis. When I stumbled across this word in summer Greek 22 years ago (!), I noted how it sounded like “Kenobi,” the surname of Obi-Wan, the hermitic Jedi who becomes Luke’s guide in the original Star Wars movie. I thought this because Star Wars is apparently a filter in my mind through which all information passes. It’s interesting being me.

At any rate, while I’m sure this is total coincidence, I see a delightful consonance between the two words. What does Obi-Wan do? He pours himself out. He allows Darth Vader to kill him, both to save his friends and because he knows death is not the end: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” This is, of course, what happens. Obi-Wan’s sacrifice sets off a chain reaction of events that not only leads to victory for the good guys but also, finally, salvation for his old friend-turned-galactic scourge Vader. Obi-Wan lives and dies with a kenotic love for others.

This Sunday, we enter into Holy Week. It is a story with death and its center. Kenotic, self-emptying death that Jesus willingly accepts. The true power and glory of God are most clearly revealed in the suffering and shame of the cross. Look, Jesus says, look at what I am willing to endure to save you. See how much God loves you, that God will forgive you even this. See what real power looks like – a love that gives itself away. A love that will transform creation, bringing life out of death.

Jesus’ kenotic love does not happen long ago or far, far away (sorry). It is here, present, for you today. While our lives have become, in some ways, emptier during this time of isolation, perhaps we are also having space created within ourselves. Space into which Jesus can pour his love, reforming us to live with self-emptying love for the sake of the whole world. If Paul could sing praise to Christ in prison, surely we can sing of his love, too.

May the force be with you.

(C: And also with you.)

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of love, forgive us for our false notions of what constitutes power and glory. Thank you for Jesus, who poured out his life to save us from death. Help us to live for others, too; giving and serving when and how we can. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

From → COVID-19

3 Comments
  1. Sandy Lentz permalink

    This series would make a wonderful book.

  2. Impressive…..
    It’s hard to me to chose a point to start and says how much I agree with you.
    It started long time ago but I realized about my passion for this watching James Burke’s Connections (BBC)….. from them these “connections” drove me to a serie of “coincidences” (synchronicity?) till the my searches re-connected me with He…..
    There’s a web in my mind where several dots connect each other and allow me to feel God!!
    Not touch nor see… but feel…. (a synesthesia that can (perhaps) be explained as semiotic). …..
    .
    Anyway your connection between Kenosis and Kenobi points to the same direction as mine…. everithing is a symptom of He……
    .
    It enconpasses everything, from Duna to the Islam….. from Cristhians to the Xintoism….. from Jesus to the Khabbalah ….. well…. it is endless…..
    .
    Thank you for share!!!

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