In Christ Jesus: A New Creation

And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

Part of the Epistle reading for the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross includes Galatians 6:14-17, in which St. Paul writes (emphasis not in the original text):

But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 

Biblical scholar Morna D. Hooker comments:

“Through the death and resurrection of Christ which, as we have already seen, inaugurated the new age. Because he had been raised, the age to come was already here. Christ’s resurrection, then, was not simply a guarantee of future resurrection, but the source of new life here and now. Paul describes this new way of life as ‘life according to the Spirit’ in contrast to ‘life according to the flesh,’ the life which belongs to the present age. We should not be misled into thinking that he regarded flesh as evil: it was simply weak. In Jewish thought, ‘flesh’ represented weakness, while ‘spirit’ represented strength: ‘flesh’ stands for human frailty, over against ‘spirit’, which is the power of God (Isa. 31:3). Life in the present age continued, but the resurrection of Christ had inaugurated the new age, and with it the possibility of living, ‘according to the Spirit’. […]

Christ himself had been born and died in the old age – the age of the flesh – but he had been raised into the new. Until the End finally arrived, however, the weakness and suffering associated with this age would inevitably continue. We might perhaps think, then, that Paul’s references to Jesus being the Jewish Messiah ‘according to the flesh; are simply dismissive: if that were all that could be said about him, he would have been Israel’s Messiah, and nothing more. However, the ‘new creation’ that comes with Christ’s resurrection (2 Cor. 5:17) is not a beginning from scratch, but a recreation; not a creation ex nihilo (‘from nothing’), but a redemption, a continuation and completion of the old story. It is the same God who is at work in the present as in the past, and he has not forgotten his promises to his people. For Paul, it is essential that Christ himself was born into ‘the old age’, in order to redeem it and transform it. It is because he was Israel’s Messiah ‘according to the flesh’ that he is also able to be ‘Christ’ for the new people of God in the new age.” (Paul: A Beginners Guide, pp 54-55)

The “recreation” or “new creation” is a continuation of God’s own labor in the universe which God brought into existence.   We are brought back to Genesis 2:7-8:

“… then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

At the tomb of Christ, we find the human once again bodily lifeless, and once again being taken from the earth in which He had been buried.  God is not creating a new body for Christ, but recreating the body to overcome lifelessness.  Not making all new things, but making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Christ our God creating Adam

The imagery in John’s Gospel particularly is striking.  For just as John 1, “in the beginning was the Word”, recalls to mind Genesis 1 and God speaking into existence creation, so too in John 19-20, we find the human placed in the Garden as God placed the first human in the Garden in Genesis 2.  And as in Genesis 2, it is the first day of creation on which the human was fashioned from the soil and inspired with life, so too in John 20:1 it is the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus, whom she supposes is the gardener.   She is not mistaken, for in Genesis 2 God is the original gardener, and God forms the human to become the gardener.   Mary encounters the gardener – both God and human – in Christ.  The new creation is realized.

We have in the new creation the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Ezekiel:

And the Spirit of the Lord said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, thou knowest.” Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.”  (Ezekiel 37:3-14)

God’s Love

John 3:16-17, the Gospel Lesson for the Sunday before the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross

 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) writes:

“God created Adam in the beginning, not because he needs the human race, but so that he might have a recipient of his generosity. Moreover, God commanded us to follow Christ, not because he has any need of our service, but because he wants to give us salvation. To follow the savior is to share in salvation, just as to follow the light is to gain the light. People who are in the light do not themselves provide the light but are illuminated and made bright by it; they do not contribute anything to it but, by being illuminated, they receive the benefit of the light. Similarly, to serve God does not mean giving him any gift, nor has God any need of our service. On the contrary, it is he who gives to those who serve him life, immortality and eternal glory. He rewards those who serve him without deriving any benefit himself from their service: he is rich, he is perfect, he has no needs. God requests human obedience so that his love and his pity may have an opportunity of doing good to those who serve him diligently. The less God has need of anything, the more human beings need to be united with him. Consequently, a human being’s true glory is to persevere in the service of God.” (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, p 27)