My son and I went to a stationery store to buy him a planner for the new school year, and there, behind a layer of planners, was an old one from 2020, that someone had forgotten to get rid of…
“Wait,” Silas said, “that’s weird. Did that year happen?”
I smiled. That’s Silas’ sense of humor. There’s usually an edge to it.
I’ve made similar observations, comparing last year to the hours you lose when you are under anesthesia. 2019 told us to breathe normally and count backwards from ten, and when we get to six, we found ourselves transported to 2021 — a strange room with evening light coming in the window — a whole year dropped forever into a milky hole of nothingness.
Even my memories of 2020 are dreamlike.
I recall, during the first lockdowns, marvelling at the aerial videos that were circulating on YouTube that showed the immense trappings of human civilization — wide commercial boulevards, huge sports arenas, vaste interstate highway systems — all of it…
Not a soul to be seen anywhere…
Was this a dream?
There was an eerie beauty to it…
It was as if humanity itself had vanished from the planet.
I remember celebrating the fact that there were no airplanes in the sky. With this blessed silence, the imperious grip that humans have on the planet loosened, and the natural world was waking up.
Stories were told about wild animals wandering out of the woods to take a look around…
Following a primal urge to hide, I burrowed into the basement, and it was in that muted space that 2020 vanished among my late father’s dusty books, the broken wicker baskets, neglected art supplies and the intermittent hum of the electric heater. Had I died and gone to the great Goodwill Store in the sky?
There can be no doubt, now, that we are living during a time of profound adversity.
If future generations get to look back at this period — it will be known in the same way that other historical traumas are known — not by the calendar year, but by the name of the trauma. It will be up there with “The Civil War” or “the Depression” as a time etched into our communal memory. What will we call it?
“The Corona era?”
“The virus years?”
The Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering tracks the global spread and toll of Covid-19. The database is updated every 15 minutes, and as of the writing of this sermon, 4,492,602 people have died since the first cases were reported in December of 2019. Though we have developed an extraordinarily effective vaccine in a very short time, we continue to live in a state of profound uncertainty. Will we beat it? Or will a variant of the virus outwit us?
If anything could outwit the human species, it might be something like this — an illness that destroys our ability to be together — a plague that kills community
In our very essence, we are communal creatures.
Since the dawn of time, we have wandered the savannah together, foraging and hunting… always sharing…
We are strongest when we are together.
Faced with scarcity,
confronted with adversity, we look to each other for support.
In connection, we find solutions.
In collective wisdom we find meaning.
In love we find fulfillment.
Alone, it is hard to find meaning.
Solitary confinement is the most inhumane punishment because being alone is contrary to being human.
And so here we are…
Here we are, confronted by a challenge that hits us at the very core of our being.
What do we do?
We know what scientists and public health officials recommend.
We know what Anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers are saying.
But what about Christians?
What is a spiritual reaction?
How do we, as Christians respond to the struggle of our time?
To consider this question, allow me to introduce you to the two unfamiliar words that form the title of today’s sermon.
Koinonia and Kenosis.
The apostle Paul wrote his letters in Greek, so these two words are Greek words.
Both of these words appear in today’s reading, and both have become crucial theological ideas that have grown in importance over the centuries since St. Paul’s life…
Koinonia, which appears in Philippians 2, verse one, is translated here as “sharing.”
In context, the verse reads as follows:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines Koinonos as “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation.”
Methodist writer and blogger writer Jessica Brodie fills in our understanding, when she writes:
In the Bible, koinonia is more than friendship. It is a divinely intimate, holy unity among believers—and between believers and the Lord—involving everything from spiritual oneness in the Holy Spirit, community life, sharing contributions from money to food gifts, and the communion partaken in the body and blood of Christ Jesus.
It is not surprising, then, that the word koinonia is associated here with the Holy Spirit. When we feel the Holy Spirit, we experience an intimacy with God that moves through our lives, enriching and giving unity to our relationships with each other.
A holy connection through God to each other.
A kind of Beloved Community.
A Blessed tie that binds us in community…
We share our mutual woes,
our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
And now, the second Greek word —
The Greek word Kenosis can be found in verse seven of today’s passage, translated here as the English word “emptied.”
In context, the verse reads as follows:
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.
You have heard the term “Glass half empty” or “Glass half full”.
Well, Paul suggests that the divine, in the person of Jesus, was willing to become entirely empty in order to share our humanity.
Jesus emptied himself — he lowered himself — allowed himself to suffer, becoming a slave, because he — God — was dedicated to us.
In the next line, Paul writes of this emptying, concluding with the shocking idea that Jesus
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
The one who is most powerful. That which is most wise. The eternal. The divine… in order to teach us, becomes empty. That emptiness is then filled with humility
The humility that is humanity,
and in this state of humility, allows himself to die.
An emptying that heals.
God heals us by becoming empty, and being filled with our pain.
And so, for us too, healing doesn’t come from avoiding pain.
If we want to drink the water of life, we cannot fill a glass that is already full of water.
To be filled, one must be empty.
Healing, for us, means emptying ourselves, so we can be filled with God.
And this emptying is not always easy…
Is this a spiritual way of looking at our moment?
Have we been through a long process of emptying?
An emptying time.
And now, when we need community — when we need Koinonia the most, can we receive this divine grace?
To get to Koinonia, Paul says — to be together in spirit — to gather in holy unity, we must first be like Christ —
We must be emptied.
Empty, we are ready for God.
A God who does not let us live alone.
Though we are isolated by a disease, we are not alone, because, if we only let it, our emptyness will be filled.
Filled now, with Koinonia… for
When we are called to part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.
Indeed we are bound in a blessed tie…
We may be physically apart, but as a community — in Koinonia — our emptiness is filled with the love of God.