If not for memory, we would leave the past like a trail of falling skin cells. Without thought and without turmoil, we would drop our shedding past and move on to whatever is next. But then we would not be moral and mortal beings who feel the gaze of conscience and the pressure of time. We live in Lent. We do remember and feel the burden and beauty of the past, things done and left undone, words that helped and words that hurt, proposals for good and those for greed. We still are the whole burden of what we have been. Factor in too an almost universal sense that we live under the eye of a super conscience, a presence to whom we are ultimately accountable. The weight of this is almost unbearable.
Forty years after their exodus from Egypt, arriving into the Promised Land, the people were yet enslaved by “the disgrace of Egypt” (Josh. 5:9). They did and would forever remember their captivity. In a sense, their trial was to avoid falling as victims to foreign powers and alien gods, a test they would fail again and again. Who will deliver us from this body of death, this karmic curse of the past?
Renewal of a deep down kind is a dramatic and dramatically divine intervention enacted through ceremony. The men among the people are cut with a flint knife; all celebrate the Passover, a recapitulation of their momentous escape. But here the theme is not time-bound destiny, but a sober view of the past coupled with the possibility and hope for change. “Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view / That stand upon the threshold of the new” (Edmund Waller). For the first time they eat the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and grain. The miracle of desert manna ceased that very day.
How do we who carry our past become new? St. Paul suggests we drop a human point of view and see ourselves as we are seen by the font of being, the eternally begotten, the shared and effusive Spirit. We are, he says, “a new creation” because we are “in Christ.” From the bosom of the Father, the Son comes. The Son, who knew no sin, comes among us and assumes our nature. He becomes what we are without deprivation to his divine being. We, however, become what he is to the renewal and elevation of our nature into the divine life.
In the middle of this transformation is Christ consenting “to be sin,” that is, to bear in himself the weight of the long history of human failure and willing depravity. He suffered under Pontius Pilate. The sign of the new age is Christ taking humanity upon himself, not counting trespasses, but rather pouring out compassion, running to welcome, thrusting out his arms, kissing in peace (Luke 15:20-24). And yet, while he counts not wrongs, he feels their weight and their sorrow and their intense loneliness. As he bears the weight of a lost humanity, that weight is mysteriously lifted from us. In him we become “the righteousness of God.” Caught up into the Son, we become sons and daughters of God. Everything is new and everything new is of God.
Who died when Christ died? The old man hung there in the humanity of Jesus. He died and we die with him, but we also rise in newness of life. This is both true and a truth waiting to be; thus the command to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Moment by moment, the mystery of Christ is new. He takes us into himself and we become, by grace and adoption, what he is and live where he is.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 32:2.
Think About It
“It” is Christ with you and for you.