This is the sixth article in our On the Incarnation series for the Nativity Fast. It includes a short video at the end.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
These words echoed through my mind, along with the faint chanting that echoed in the tomb’s darkness. I had cast my eyes on a few candles that were growing out of a fat mound of water-suspended wax, and made my way over to the font, mesmerized as I crossed the floor. Reaching them, I gazed with intent and cupped my hands around the flickering light, seemingly suspending that which the darkness had not overcome in midair. Taking a breath, I realized in that moment for the first time where I truly was.
Knowing that the opportunity would not likely come again, I was quick and glad to sign up for a 3-week ecumenical immersion in biblical studies that was taking place in Jerusalem (see video below). On the way over, my new friends from Holy Cross in Brookline were swift to give a Catholic such as myself a crash course in all that I would need to know on Orthodoxy (leading in time to the discovery of Orthodoxy in Dialogue). It was during these conversations that I learned on the way about the possibility of staying overnight in the Holy Sepulchre and simply said, “Okay, we’re doing that,” with no thought to plans or schematics. Somehow, a few of us secured spaces to keep vigil, decided to chance it, and prepared to not sleep in the midst of our endless walks and day trips under a baking Mediterranean sun.
The doors to the Sepulchre closed with a massive thud as the fifteen of us from around the world who came to the tomb stood there, not knowing what to expect next. From there, time seemed to stop. No tourists, no lines, no light other than what candles would give us. Coming to the chamber which held the tomb at a time when one of the groups of clergy wasn’t occupying it for liturgical uses, I knelt my way in. Bending through a tiny archway, I laid my head on a slab that glowed pink in the light. I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t.
We think of the Incarnation in terms of something that exists. Jesus was not in this world, and then suddenly the Word became flesh and He was here, growing up and dying in time. Yet looking back to that night in the Holy Sepulchre at this time, I find that I have the words to speak about one of the many realizations I had. In reflecting on Athanasius’ statement that, after the Incarnation, “no part of creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere,” I am willing to push the Alexandrian’s logic after that night spent in vigil at the tomb.
When God became incarnate, it meant that every aspect of creation had the potential to become divinized. From the time that He was a child, He touched those around Him, such as Simeon and Anna. He became part of their lives in the same way that He does for us today. In the same way, He touched the thorns, rocky road, mustard plants, and fish that would eventually find their way into His parables because He knew them. Thinking analogically, we can see how God can be found (to quote an over-quoted Society) in all things. As to the crucifixion, well, too many commentaries on finding God in death and suffering for me to make any adequate comments there.
Now we come to the tomb. It’s empty. Jesus was here and then He wasn’t, and none of us can say or even comprehend what happened. He is not here. And by that very fact, nothingness itself now has the ability to testify to God’s glory. God has entered into nothing. God has made nothing truly sacred. Not only were all things filled everywhere, from trees and rocks to the very essence of rationality, but the place in which we believe no one thing could ever be found in fact contains God. He is not here in the empty tomb, and having risen, is here all the more for it. And if nothingness is not constricted to the space within the empty tomb, who is to say that God’s incarnation did not extend to the nothingness around the entire world?
As I placed my hands around the fire, nothing was there. I make no claim that I “held” God, but acknowledge now that I held something made sacred by God in an event that could only have flowed from the patient trust and instantaneous Glory of the Incarnation. In retrospect, one’s heart sinks at not having noticed God there before.
I’ve not yet read Jean-Luc Marion or any of those other thinkers who talk about a “God Without Being.” This was also not the only insight I had during that night in prayer. Maybe I will realize in time that another was actually far more consequential. Yet here in Advent, readying myself for the coming of Christ along with my brethren, I am ready also to emerge from Advent and find God in nothingness in a way that I would never before have conceived.
Now I ask you to put this screen down, or turn away.
Do you see Jesus next to you, in the space? No, because He isn’t there.
And that’s because, in a far more real and important way, He is.
Photo credit: The Irish Times.
See our call for articles if you would like to write for our On the Incarnation series. See the On the Incarnation section in our Archives by Author for the other reflections in this series.
Gus Hardy is a practicing Roman Catholic and 2nd-year MDiv student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. His academic interests include sacramental and trinitarian theology.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue seeks to promote the free exchange of ideas by offering a wide range of perspectives on an unlimited variety of topics. Our decision to publish implies neither our agreement nor disagreement with an author, in whole or in part.
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