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I’m still thinking about Easter. I know. Easter is already past; I should be on to something else now. But frankly, Easter is just one of those days that takes time to process. When you think of it, Easter is more than a day; it’s a season. Truth be told, every Sunday is “a little Easter” as we gather together to celebrate the risen Lord.
As I was thinking about Easter, I also had reason recently to refer students in my New Testament class at HBU to 2 Corinthians 5:17. This is an amazing passage about the new creation. As anyone knows who is familiar with Greek and biblical theology, Paul’s language here is a notoriously hard to translate. We struggled with that passage in The Voice.
Here is how we rendered it:
Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun!
The language of new creation is not original with Paul. It goes back to the message of Isaiah who looked beyond his own day to a time when God will do something new and amazing in this good—but now disordered—world he had made. What he will do, according to Isaiah, will be so astounding the only language to describe it is the language of “new creation” (Isaiah 65:17-25). In John’s Apocalypse it is described this way (Revelation 21:1):
I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new. Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been had passed away, and the sea was gone, completely.
When we turn to the New Testament, we discover that the new creation has in fact already begun. It began on that first Easter when the dead body of Jesus—composed as we are of carbon, hydrogen, and other elements—is suddenly and miraculously transformed into a new kind of body, a resurrected body. In that moment a piece of the old order became new. In that moment a piece of the earth—because we like Adam are all made of dust—became eternal. Easter is “the Big Bang” of the New Creation.
No one was there to observe it, but no one can deny that in that moment everything changed. As the risen Jesus appeared to one after another, the beleaguered and defeated disciples become powerful witnesses to the greatest miracle in history. The church—which began small like a mustard seed—started to grow at an amazing pace and in a few decades stood to challenge the power of Rome. If Jesus is Lord, they thought, then Caesar certainly is not.
Today the empire and her leaders are long gone. Only fractured monuments to her greatness remain. But the Church Jesus established is not only present; it has filled the earth. To borrow a line from one of Jesus’ parables: the birds of the air are making their nests in it.
Paul wants the Corinthians to know that those who are united with Jesus through the ritual cleansing of baptism have entered into that new creation. Their old lives are put away. Their new lives have begun. But the Lord’s emissary does not claim that they are new creations in and of themselves. They are made new only in relation to the One who was crucified, buried, and raised to new life. They are made new in that very first Easter. In a sense they were there on the cross and in that tomb, already united with him. Paul’s point is personal, but it is more than individual. Every person who turns to Jesus is not only new creation, he or she enters into a community of individuals graced to be full participants in that new creation which began that first Easter.