“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.”
Only a short time ago there were many people who believed that we had no need of a new creation. Things were quite good enough as they were. Twenty years ago when I became a bishop the West was literally on top of the world. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the Soviet Union was disintegrating.
We seemed to be in sight of establishing heaven on earth – without God of course – but with the assistance of liberal democracy and market economics. One distinguished American historian in 1992 published a book in this spirit, entitled The End of History.
Now the world looks very different. The tectonic plates are shifting. Economic and military power is being redistributed and as the title of a book by the editor of the Economist puts it – God is Back.
Unfortunately God is back in many guises and some of them are healthful and some of them are lethal. Some visions of God contain the hope of universal peace and human flourishing while others are projections of hate and the lust for power.
Much religion is indeed a matter of projecting parts of ourselves. Human beings have a tendency to make gods in our own image. It is a tendency ceaselessly denounced by the prophets as the manufacture of idols.
The Bible is the record of a very different God. In the beginning God created human beings in his image and likeness. It is this conviction that is foundational for our civilisation. That God created humans in his own image is an idea which has done more than any other to provide a foundation for human dignity and equality.
The great 20th century Prime Minister, Clement Attlee said that he believed “in the ethics of Christianity but not the mumbo jumbo”. One of the questions for the 21st century is whether the ethics have a sustainable foundation without what Attlee describes as the “mumbo jumbo”.
Inalienable and equitable rights were not possible within the accepted moral framework of the ancient world. Full and equal rights in democratic Athens for examples were confined to adult, male, free born citizens. The decision of the Christian community from the beginning to enrol women, slaves and children in the new creation was seen as deeply subversive.
The Church did this as a sign of the new creation which was inaugurated by the life, death and resurrection of the human face of God, Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself in the person of Jesus Christ, his plan for spiritually evolved human life made flesh.
The way of Christ opens on to a life which is very far distant from some pious fantasy of the kind we might have been tempted to manufacture for ourselves. We are naturally attracted to religions which promise inner serenity or discipline and success but who in their right minds would put a symbol of a cruel death, the cross at the heart of their faith?
The only God who exists, the living God who was not created by us but created us in his own image; God so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us. He suffered and died “so that all who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who died and was raised for them”.
The result is a door opening onto a new creation, the promise of a new civilisation, a City of God which is founded not on blood taken like earthly cities but on blood given; on generosity; love and service of our neighbours. It is understandable that we should be tempted by religious fantasies which leave us where we are but with a sense of self-justification.
Jesus Christ, God’s plan for the spiritual evolution of the human race shared our flesh and blood. “He was in the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.” “But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God.”
The coming of Jesus Christ inaugurated a new age. What has passed away is the old world of relationships, attitudes of domination and exploitation of our fellows and of the earth itself.
Here the translation of Paul’s words in our service paper is deeply misleading. He talks of knowledge not “from a human point of view” but “kata sarca” – “after the flesh” – a way of knowing and calculating which flows from self-interest. To be aware of one’s environment and neighbours in a new way because one is newly related to God through Jesus Christ is to live in a new world with a new set of relationships. Christian living means that by faith we live in the midst of the old creation in terms of the new creation that God has inaugurated through Christ.
Nothing can alter the fact that Christ died for all so that potentially all people can die to the old life but it is no foregone conclusion that all will cease to live for themselves and live henceforth in the spirit of the generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to love his enemies into loving. This is why Paul says to the Christians of Corinth and to us “as workers together with God” I urge you that you should not receive the generosity of God in vain.
History has not come to an end and nor has the spiritual evolution of the human race. Ours is a century of great promise and peril. There is a question of whether we shall develop the wisdom to use for the common good and advancement of human flourishing the power which the discoveries; the economic advances and knowledge of past centuries have given to us.
History stands at a crucial point. This resurrection day the choice is ours. Are we part of the old creation or fellow workers with the Spirit of God in the new creation; inaugurating the new age by obedience to the commands of the risen Christ and by unselfish living? The time has come to be clear about where we stand and to encourage fellow believers by declaring our loyalty to Christ and our participation in the new creation. Unostentatious signs like wearing the cross can often be more eloquent than many words in proclaiming that “if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation: everything old has passed away”.
May the Holy Spirit of God refresh our clouded vision and give us the spiritual eyes to see that “Christ the Lord hath risen indeed; there is sprung up a light for the righteous and joyful gladness for them that are true hearted.”
Christ is risen!