The Fourth Sunday in Lent


Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.

II Corinthians 5:17

At the heart of Paul’s genius is one grand, all-encompassing idea that is simultaneously a theology of nature, a theology of salvation history, and a theology of everyman’s soul’s pilgrimage. It is the image of a fallen cosmos, now groaning and travailing as it looks forward to redemption, of creation itself being made new in Christ in whom all things consist; of a chosen people reaching home in the Church, the company of Christ, in the New Jerusalem; and at its crown the image of man who grown old in sin set is at last set free and made new in the image of Christ. Sacred Scripture opens with the image of the Holy Spirit of God hovering over a world that has fallen into chaos, darkness, and emptiness, remaking it into the light-filled order and fullness of being that reflects the glory and perfection of its Creator. The Prophet John’s great vision ends with the words of Him who sits upon the throne: “Behold I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). It is Paul’s inspired genius to see that the groaning and travailing of this present order (Romans 8:22–23), the rough journey of Israel and the Church through time (Hebrews 1:2–3), the struggle of souls to receive the gift of holiness that makes everyman a fit companion for Christ (I Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 12:1); these things represent the transposition from a past that will be left behind into a future in which all things will be made new. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). In showing forth His glory in the world God permitted fallen mankind a great temptation, for the goodness of our lives and the beauty of the world and the pleasures of it always call us back, or at least raise carpe diem, seize this day, to a religious level, when it is in fact the light of future glory, of the new world, of the new self that is coming that shines its light down every day to call us forward to the prize, filling our days with hope that under-girds the struggle Paul so often mentions. And to seize the world in itself, without the acknowledgement that it too is a creature and undeserving of worship, is to see that same world turn to dust before our eyes. Every great religion looks forward to something better. For the Hindu it may be relief from the struggle of life into not-being. For the follower of the Prophet it may be the garden of delight In Scripture God tells us that He gives us a Person who is greater than the cosmos; for Christians the gift and the goal is Christ and all that subsists in Him. How this can be is known to us only by glimpses and intimation, but we are told by divine revelation that every good thing exists in God, that all things hold together and subsist in His Son and that the world we know is made after the pattern who is the Word and Son of God (Colossians 1:15–20). “What eye has not seen and ear not heard, things which the heart of man cannot conceive, such things God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9). What we will see is Jesus and in Him all things (I John 3:2). And by prophetic revelation we know something of what we will hear: “Come ye blessed of my Father” (Matthew 25:34), and with those words the eternal song of angels, all nature, and mankind, praising Him who sits on the throne, surrounded by the rainbow light who is the Father, with the seven-fold Spirit proceeding from the Lamb enthroned like fire (Revelation 5). But even these are only images of a deeper glory. As we move toward this future we do not see the glory in the world around us save in glimpses; for while the inner man is growing, the outer man is decaying. We have the firstfruits, not the fullness, and that for cause. No matter how benevolent may be God’s restoration of nature, no matter how glorious may be Christ’s reign in our hearts, the perfection for which God intends this restoration cannot be complete because there is stamped across time a great ‘not yet,’ a due bill that must be paid, a ransom that we each and collectively owe. For God said, In the day that you eat the fruit; in the day that you believe the Serpent and reject my justice and with it myself, you shall die (Genesis 2:18). That last enemy must be conquered. It cannot be conquered by one under its bondage. So having made the great proclamation that God will make all things new Paul goes on to describe the means of this more-than-miracle. “All this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ… For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (18, 21). These words of Paul would become a cardinal witness to the doctrine theologians would call the atonement, the name given the great act that made mankind call the day of the greatest and perfect sacrifice Good Friday. Various words have been used. But always there is, rooted in Hebrew Scriptures, the truth that only the offering of life to God that can restore to Him the life, and the lives, lives He made for himself, lives that that we took from Him in that great act of injustice when we trusted the Serpent and became thereby unrighteous. Blood is the life (Leviticus 17:11), and “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). It is true of sacrifice in the Old Testament that sacrifice must be personal, so that He who offers is offered with the sacrifice. Leviticus commands that when sacrifice is offered at the door of the tent of meeting, the sinner “shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for sin” (Leviticus1:4). Later there would be the great offering at Sinai, when the oxen’s blood would be splashed on both the altar and the people to unite them in the sacrifice (Leviticus 17:6–8). He it is who is eternally united with the Father in word, deed and person, whose life was eternally offered to the Father in the charity of the Blessed Trinity had no need of sacrifice for sin for His sinless life was always and eternally the holy and perfect offering. When Paul says that Jesus made Himself sin, Paul means at the least that He took upon Himself the death we justly owed, death being the greatest work of the Adversary, death that He alone did not owe, in order to bring the whole race back into a state of righteousness— Knox translates holiness—in Him, that is through our incorporation in the person Jesus, to whom we are joined in the Holy Spirit, through baptism, faith, and our sharing in His Body and Blood, our offering, ineffective and impossible of itself, is made perfect and effective. And this is the sacrifice that makes us new creatures, a perfecting sacrifice in which we share when we, standing as it were at the door of the tent of meeting, say “May the Lord accept this sacrifice…for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and for the good of all his holy Church.” This redemption once accomplished for us in our time and place, the fact of death cannot be done away, but with the death and resurrection of Christ death becomes a door into life with Him, and to all things in Him. And this is why Saint Thomas reminds us that our calling as creatures will never be finished because when we see Him as He is we will begin the work of knowing the inexhaustible reality of the Blessed Trinity at whose heart lives the divine humanity of Christ. We are in Him and He is in us, and in Him we possess all things, for in Him subsist all things. “In Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself…” Saint Irenaeus, with I Corinthians 15 in the background, writes at the end of his great book, that when Christ returns in glory the pattern in which sin has flourished will be done away, and “when this pattern has passed away and man is made new…then there will be a new heavens and a new earth. In this new order man will always remain new, in converse with God.” “Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the mind imagined the good things He has prepared for those who love Him.”