There are times when we tell ourselves that nothing’s new, that human nature doesn’t change, and that history simply repeats itself. The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes tells us:
“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 1:9]
Yet we also find ourselves seeking what is new. We greet each other with the question “What’s new?” We watch TV news, read newspapers, pay attention to advertisements, and look for new models of things we already have. Advertisements are loaded with words telling us of new products, or “new and improved” products that we can’t live without. The world of computers is filled with new gadgets, new programs, new downloads, and so forth. We seem to be obsessed with what’s new.
Jesus used the word “new” many, many times in His discourses and teachings, all the time trying to get us to see the new creation, the new man, and the new covenant His Father is bringing about. The Gospel account we just heard was the beginning of Jesus’ final discourse at the Last Supper, a discourse filled with promise, hope and a vision of the future. The second reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. It’s interesting to note that Mel Gibson, in his movie The Passion of the Christ, put the words “Behold, I make all things new” into the mouth of Christ as He suffered during His passion under the weight of His cross.
What is this new thing God invites us to see?
The glitz, glamour, and spectacles this world offers us hold our attention. Being thus captured we tend to sell ourselves short. It takes artists, poets, and great writers to give us deeper vision and enable us to see deeper things, as well as to see ourselves on a deeper level.
What we need to see now is that God is ushering in a new creation. He is sculpting us and fashioning us as His new sons and daughters. We need to stand back and look at the big picture. We need to see the way things were between God and us before Christ and the way things are now after Christ. Because of Christ Jesus we are in a new status in our relationship with God.
There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Byzantine Catholic Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead and going all the way back to Adam and Eve to pull them out of their graves. The truth being presented to us is that God in Christ reaches all the way back to our human beginnings and allows all of those who have gone before to experience the risen Christ’s saving presence. The picture is profound – the message is beautiful. God in Christ presents Himself to everyone, even to those who died before Christ’s appearance to us on earth.
As for us… well, we need to see that we live in the time that is “already but not yet.” In His Anointed One, in His Christ, God has ushered in His kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that has been established and is now in the process of unfolding among us. Our status with God has been fundamentally and radically changed. Christ has given us His salvation. What we do with it remains to be seen. We live in God’s time, the time that is already but not yet. What is yet to be, and what can be for us individually, is revealed in the Book of Revelation… a book of hope, of promise, and of glory. Whether that hope, promise, and glory will be ours individually and personally depends upon our response to what God has done and is doing now for us.
The Sacrament of Baptism initiates us into that cosmic reality, as do the other Sacraments of Initiation, namely Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. As a matter of fact, all of the Seven Sacraments are but differing aspects of the One Sacrament, namely Christ among us.
I want to emphasize that I have been speaking of what God “is doing.” The phrase is in the present tense active. It is not in the past tense. We’re not talking just about what God “has done”. We’re talking about what God “is doing” and will “yet do”. The last discourse of Jesus during the Last Supper is likewise in that setting – He gives us words of hope, promise, and glory… realities that are present and at the same time realities that are, depending upon our responses, in our futures.
The former hopelessness of our condition, our state of alienation from God, has been eradicated by Christ. At a radically fundamental level Christ has saved us. But we must ever hold in our hearts and minds that He is yet saving us, depending upon how we respond to what He is offering.
All of this points to the essential spiritual condition into which we must place ourselves. We must develop “eyes to see and ears to hear.” We cannot be passive about that, thinking that God will give it all to us anyway, even if we don’t respond to Him. There’s nothing passive about being a follower of Christ. No! We must actively listen; we must actively respond; we must put into action in our daily lives the gifts that God has given us and is giving us in His Christ.
I was struck by the fact that Mel Gibson also put the words of the “One sitting on the throne” in heaven, the one known as “the Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end, into the mouth of Jesus as He suffering during His passion. What a tremendous insight it was for Mr. Gibson to do that. What artistry! I hope you noticed it too and were just as moved as I was by what was presented to us.
Life, however, is not a movie. We are considering here something that is spiritually and theologically at the profoundest levels of our self-understanding, in our understanding of our new status with God because of Christ. Truly, Christ has died for our sins. Truly, He has justified us. Truly, He is sanctifying us. Whether or not we will be ultimately saved and spend eternity in the New Jerusalem depends on us. God has done everything for us; He has given everything to us. The frightful question remains: “How will we respond?” Will we, with Peter, seek and accept the hope, the promise, and the glory that Jesus Christ offers us all? Or will we sink into this world’s despair? Do you think there’s nothing new in our world? Will we settle for only the glitz and glitter of this world, its thirty pieces of silver, and thereby sell our souls for nothing more?
The answer to these questions, along with our salvation, depends on us. God offers… we respond.