Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
old has passed away;
everything has become new!
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Paul's great passage about reconciliation gives me the
opportunity to pick up my favorite current theme, and add something to what I
said last time, when the subject was the nocturnal visit of St. Nicodemus to
our Lord. You will remember that the learned and sympathetic Pharisee was
puzzled by the notion of being "born from above". A clue to what that
means is found elsewhere in the writings of the same author — or at least of
his school of early Christian theology — where, in one of the epistles
attributed to him, St. John says
who loves is born of God and knows God.
Born of God, you see. Maybe that is the birth from above
of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John's Gospel. If so, it means that love —
the fruit of the Spirit, Who blows wherever She will — is spiritual rebirth. I think that has something to do with
ego-loss. Self-forgetfulness. Love is more than simple kindness or generous
disposition towards others. It is more mystical, and in a sense more
frightening than that. It has to do with the loss of our life, in fact our
soul, with the loss of whatever it is that, if we tried to hold onto it we lose
it, but when we lose it, we find real
life and our real soul. Hanging-on
to our little sense of self, to our little egos — is what Paul calls the flesh.
Today he tells us:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one
from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point
of view, we know him no longer in that way.
Well, the word of our version renders as human is none
other than this flesh, so in my
interpretation this passage could read this way:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one
from the point of view of ego-delusion; even though we once knew Christ from
that deluded point of view, we know Him no longer in that way.
Could this mean that — from time to time at least — Paul
has experienced a new consciousness of which he is no longer the center? It is
extremely difficult to explain this to those who have never experienced it. In
fact, the attempt to do so may well appear to be lunacy:
if we are beside ourselves, it is for God;
if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
The original Greek is helpful and maybe even
illuminating here: the word our translation renders as "beside
ourselves” [exesthmen] Is related to our word ecstasy. It can mean out of one's mind or beside
oneself, but it can also mean something mystical: astonishment, amazement, “a
displacement of the mind from its ordinary state and self-possession”. Self-possession.
There we go. Paul is referring to a transformation
of his sense of self as a result of his relationship to God in Christ. I
think this is also what he means by reconciliation [katallassw],
which we will get to in a minute.
Paul says that he is "beside himself", as regards
God. That is, for a time Paul finds himself outside his old, limited,
ego-centric consciousness — the sense of individual self into which we are
born, which he calls flesh. When dealing with fellow mortals, he has to
revert to that consciousness in order to appear not to have lost his mind,
because that is exactly how ecstatic people seem to others. For the sake of
those with whom he is trying to communicate, he must keep up what he now sees
as the pretense of the flesh— the
illusion that we are separate beings — while at the same time trying to convince
everyone that they are really a new creation.
if anyone is in Christ, there is a New Creation: everything old has passed
see, everything has become new!
That's where our lectionary leaves it today, but Paul
goes on to talk, rather excitedly — even ecstatically — it seems to me, about
reconciliation, which is really what all of this is been leading up to, even
though our lectionary omits it entirely, and skips on to the next chapter next
week! Here's how Paul concludes this passage:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new
creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All
this is from God, who reconciled us with Himself through Christ, and has given
us the ministry of reconciliation; that is
in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their
trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us… For
our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin Who knew no sin so that in Him we might
become the is righteousness of God.
Sin is alienation –
our self-definition as OTHER than everyone and everything else. This is
the exact opposite of the Divine Consciousness of the Three Persons, which is
Love. Sin is the opposite of Love. It is the state of individuality into which
we are born. In Christ, God has come into that state with us, so that we might
become the righteousness of God: so that we might join in the society of Perfect
Love which I've called the Divine Consciousness. We cannot enter the kingdom of
God until we have been born from above — until we exchange sin for love, flesh
for spirit, ego-delusion for self-forgetfulness.
"See, If anyone is in
Christ there is a new creation." The old translations render it —
mistakenly in my estimation — as an individual transformation: "If anyone
is in Christ HE IS a new creation."
What's wrong with this is that it is precisely the overcoming of
individuality that Paul is talking about as the New Creation — the
reconciliation provided by God in Christ — we are reconciled with God and with
one another. I think this means more than simply being forgiven by God and
forgiving one another. It is a metaphysical change, in which we are no longer
in Paul's ironic phrase "in our right minds" — our worldly, or
fleshly, or ego-diluted perspective, but we are "beside ourselves” or “out
of our minds” — those fleshly minds, those ego-minds. We are out of those.
We usually think of reconciliation under the influence
of our atonement doctrine: we need, individually, to be reconciled to God,
because of our misdeeds, and the blood of Christ makes that possible by paying
the penalty due for our sin. Indeed, the Latin word from which our word
reconciliation comes can be used in this way, although the Greek is not. In a
more humanistic sense, we also think of reconciliation as laying down old
enmities and grudges, and forgetting about other people's offenses against us.
It means all these things, but looking into the roots of the words uncovers at
least the possibility of an ecstatic and mystical meaning. The Greek word we
translate as "reconciliation" is related to the word meaning other as in alien. It means to change into something else, to exchange one
thing for another, to interchange and by extension, it means to restore to favor,
that which had fallen out of favor. Reconciliation in the sense of “restoration
to favor” is one of the ancient meanings, but at the deepest root there is
always the notion of change. Transformation. Exchange. Restoration.
Interchange. I want to propose that reconciliation can mean becoming interchangeable with one another
— that reconciliation means really loving your neighbor as yourself.
Reconciliation in Latin adds another interesting
connotation: coming together again, implying that some kind of previous togetherness
had been lost, which is now restored. That, in fact, is the usual meaning of
reconciliation, isn't it? Usually, reconciliation goes hand-in-hand with
forgiveness. But I want to suggest that it may mean much more, all-important
though forgiveness may be. I suggest that reconciliation is an actual change in
being, which is why Paul calls it "the New Creation”. The New Creation in
Let me read the passage, substituting my own
interpretation of the words:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new
creation: everything old is passed away; see, everything has become new! All
this is from God, who interchanged reconciled us with Himself through Christ,
and has given us the commission to make you aware of it ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ
God was changing the world into Himself reconciling the world to Himself, not
counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of this
transformation reconciliation to us… For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be
alienated ego sin who never had any such delusion knew no sin so that in Him we
might become the righteousness of God.
The cancellation of trespasses is part of the
reconciliation – the interchange of Being –
but it is far from the whole thing. The reconciliation of which Paul
writes seems to be liberation from the prison of ego – the flesh, as he called it — as we are incorporated into Christ which
means into the Mystical Body in which we are all one. The flesh is transformed – exchanged for the Body: the New Creation that is the Body of Christ. In the old, worldly,
fleshly, consciousness of self — from the perspective of ego — this kind of
talk is crazy: the lunatic raving of one “beside himself”, but in this new, ecstatic
understanding, in which everything old has
passed away — in which Paul has experienced the new level of consciousness
in Christ — it is the Message of Reconciliation: the incredibly Good News that
we have been changed — brought into the Eternal Communal Self: The Most Holy
and Life-giving Trinity: we are "reconciled" in the sense of being
brought into that Divine Being — together.