Daily Archives: April 24, 2011

Easter Humility

For Lent, I gave up blogging. Today, Easter, I’m posting my first new blog post since March 8, when I announced my fast from the blogosphere.

It was a refreshing break.

Though the last six weeks have hardly been the quiet, contemplative, restful Lenten weeks I’d hoped they would be, it’s still been a fruitful exercise to abstain from the blogosphere during this time. There were plenty of times I wanted to chime in on the issue of the moment, or a thought I’d been wrestling with… but the process of thinking about something carefully, and then not sharing it with the world, was incredibly enriching.

I think it’s important to have restraint. If there’s one thing I’ve been learning–and want to keep learning–it is the importance of being slow to speak, but quick to listen.  I want to be a better listener, a better perceiver, a better interpreter of the world and its beauties. To take in more than I churn out… and then to churn out only after a thoughtful period of processing and active listening… that’s where I want to be. As a blogger, as a friend, as a follower of Christ.

On Easter, as we contemplate the magnificent triumph of the Resurrection–of Christ’s victory over sin and death and his inauguration of a redeemed, renewing creation–I am reminded anew of the lengths of humility and depths of servitude that characterized Christ’s life.

He was a suffering servant, downwardly mobile. He was a carpenter who favored the company of fishermen, the sick and the poor. He “made himself of no reputation,” and washed his disciples feet. He was not unfamiliar with suffering, and willingly bore the humiliation of the cross and the shame of sin, even as he of all men did not deserve it. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.

This blog post excerpt by New Testament scholar Joe Hellerman on the “shame-bearing” suffering of Christ is worth reading:

Willingly stepping down the ladder of public esteem… is precisely what Jesus did for you and for me in his incarnation and subsequent death on the cross: ‘He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8). The early Christians were highly sensitive to the utter shame that crucifixion entailed in their social world—thus Paul’s emphatic phrase ‘even death on a cross.’

One of our earliest recorded Easter sermons describes the great paradox of a humiliated God like this:

He who hung the earth [in its place] is fixed there, he who made all things fast is made fast upon the tree, the Master has been insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been slain by an Israelitish hand. O strange murder, strange crime! The Master has been treated in unseemly fashion, his body naked, and not even deemed worthy of a covering, that [his nakedness] might not be seen. Therefore the lights [of heaven] turned away, and the day darkened, that it might hide him who was stripped upon the cross. (Melito or Sardis, Homily on the Passion, 96)

Another ancient Christian preacher similarly reflected,

Where can anything be found more paradoxical than this? This death was the most shameful of all, the most accursed. . . .This was no ordinary death. (John Chrysostom, Homily on Philippians, 8.2.5–11)

No comments in either of these sermon excerpts about Jesus’ physical suffering. No comments about the atonement. For these early Christian preachers, it was the horror of God the Son’s public humiliation that they wanted to impress upon their congregations.

Jesus, we are told by the author of Hebrews, ‘endured the cross, scorning its shame’ (Heb 12:2).

The humility of Christ, and his willingness to be humiliated, should give us all pause. In a culture of extreme exhibitionism, vanity, pride, in which everything is done with an eye to “status” and social performance, this sort of humility is hard to come by. When we do encounter it–even in faint glimpses–it astounds and inspires us, because it’s just so against our natural disposition toward pride and narcissism.

When Christ rose from the dead, there began a movement of followers of his way. Followers of the upside-down kingdom of heaven that Christ introduced. This new way of living includes–and indeed, centers upon–humility. It’s a life in which we are instructed to “in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3) and to deny ourselves and take up our crosses (Mark 8:34-35) rather than seek status and affirmation. It’s a life where the “meek” and “poor in spirit” are blessed.

Easter is a triumph, but it’s not a call to triumphalism.

We have to remember that the triumph–every triumph–is in Christ, not in us. Not that we are worthless… just that our worth is derived from, animated by, and seen in light of Christ alone.

And that’s a reassuring, energizing thought. It means that I’m nothing apart from Christ; but that in him, because of him, I’m something. I have some sort of purpose. Figuring out what that purpose is, and in humility striving to live up to it, continues to be an ongoing process and an ongoing search… of which this blog is certainly a part.