21 MARCH, 2004, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT: HOMILY- 2COR. 5:17-21; LK 15: 1-3, 11-32
IF ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATION. THE OLD ORDER HAS PASSED AWAY; NOW NEW THINGS HAVE COME TO BE! If today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is known as Laetare Sunday, that is, the Sunday of Rejoicing, it is because on the horizon we can already see the glimmering that heralds the full light of Easter, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The very hint of Easter already imparts joy by anticipation. In today’s reading from second letter to the Corinthians St. Paul gives the reason for such joy: the Father has reconciled us to himself through Christ. His death and resurrection are more than they appeared to be. They have eternal consequences for all along the Father was acting through the beloved son in a manner hidden at the time. For a short while, and constituting his greatest anguish of soul, this action of the Father was hidden even to Christ himself who felt abandoned. But in the resurrection the power and favor of the Father showed itself as he made it evident through the words and manner of the risen Lord that he is reconciled to us for whom Christ suffered, died and rose.
This is the message that Paul announces to the Corinthians. This is why he here explicitly describes his preaching and writing as ‘the ministry of reconciliation.’ The change brought about by this work of the Savior is so radical that it amounts to a new creation, as Paul understands very sharply. IF ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATION. THE OLD ORDER HAS PASSED AWAY; NOW NEW THINGS HAVE COME TO BE! In what does this new creation consist? Interestingly, the best Greek manuscripts and the Latin text inform us that “all things are made new”. This does not here refer to the glorification of our body, nor of the earth and the visible heavens that are to be transformed at the last of times. Rather it is a world of new relations that are established in a fresh manner now that those men and women who accept Christ are reconciled with the Father. The results of being accepted by God are so radical that they constitute a new world, one that is in continuity with the heavenly City of God.
Once we are reconciled to God, we are accepted into his love and consequently become members of his family. This condition alters all other relations we have with one another and, for that matter, with the whole of creation. We view the world differently, inasmuch as it fits, in its proper way, into the same plan of salvation that is operative in the lives of all those destined to become fellow citizens with the angels and saints. The operative phrase here is “in Christ”. To be in Christ is already to have a share in the world to come, to relate in a fresh manner to his Father and, in consequence, to all those who belong to him. The family of God includes those in heaven as well as those on earth. Those who are in Christ no longer know one another according to the flesh, but rather, according to the Spirit, as living now in Christ.
This radical change Paul himself had experienced dramatically following his encounter with the Lord and the baptism he received through the services of the faithful community. As he lived under the influence of these graces he came to understand that it had changed not only his way of thinking about Christ and his Church but also the whole of his life. He no longer perceived others and his relations to them in the familiar world fashioned in the course of his former years. He saw clearly that his own experience, while more dramatic than that of others, exemplified the grace given to all the faithful when they received the light and life of the Holy Spirit. To this he refers when he writes the words we heard in his Epistle to the Corinthians: THE OLD ORDER HAS PASSED AWAY; NOW NEW THINGS HAVE COME TO BE!
Such existence is visible only to the eyes of faith in this world where nothing on the surface of material creation and society reveals this altered state of existence. And yet, even though unaware, the world and society stand in a new relation to God because through Christ’s death and resurrection the possibility of reconciliation with the Father remains open to all. The Gospel we have just heard dramatizes vividly this new state of affairs. By his parable of the Prodigal Son Jesus reveals the depth and intensity of the Father’s love. He does not wait until his lost son arrives home but anxiously looking for him from afar, sets out to meet him at the first sign of his return. Instead of lecturing him, he arranges for a banquet in his honor. This is the reception those can expect who turn to God in repentance for past sins and with the desire to be freed from their estrangement. This desire makes the present world with its seductive pleasures appear to them for what it is in relation to their Father’s house, a foreign land of enslavement.
We can derive a number of conclusions from these teachings of our Lord and his apostle Paul, each of us applying them to our condition at present. Whatever be the point of view that is most meaningful to any one of us, I think it safe to say that it will be a particular expression of the mercy Jesus reveals in the story of the Prodigal Son. God is truly our Father; He loves and seeks out each of us with an active energy that anticipates our true needs. The energy of this love penetrates within our heart so as to refashion us, making of us members of the new creation, modeled in the image of his own beloved son. The challenge set before us today is to open our heart in loving trust and do all we can to live as worthy children of such a Father’s care.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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