From St Paul writing to the Galatians:
“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (6:14,15)
For the past few weeks we have been reading and thinking about the Epistle to the Galatians, and this morning we heard its conclusion. In ending his letter to the churches in Galatia, St Paul gives us a summing-up of what he has said before. He does this himself, which is to say, he writes it in his own hand. Most of the letter had been dictated. Paul doubtless had an outline of his argument, his theme, what he wanted to say, and from that outline he spoke and another person, an amanuensis, wrote it down.
But here Paul makes the ending personal, just as we do when we add a handwritten note to a typewritten letter. He does this in several of his letters. In Galatians, as he concludes, he says:
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. (6:11)
and then he proceeds to sum up the letter. He does so by singling out two main themes:
- The meaning of the cross of Jesus the Messiah;
- The new world which comes into being by means of the cross of Jesus the Messiah.
Let’s consider the first. To borrow the language of contemporary physics, for Paul the cross of Jesus is a “singularity.” A singularity. That is to say, a point, a place, a moment when all the old rules break down. This happens in the physical world, and it seems that it happens in the spiritual world as well. All the old rules no longer apply. They may have made sense before. They may have been essential before. They may have described and prescribed the world and its ways before. But now with the singularity of the cross of Jesus all the former things break down, and, again, they no longer apply. The Law of Moses is no longer binding to those who are, as Paul puts it, “in Christ.” The law now is not something written down, but rather it is a life empowered by the Spirit of God, which Spirit was made available by the cross of Jesus and his rising from the dead. And because of that, the world is no longer divided into Jews and Gentiles. The ins and the outs. The dividing wall of separation has been broken down, as he tells the Ephesians (2:14). All have been made “one new man” in Christ (2:15). Those who were far off have been brought near (2:17). Therefore, circumcision, uncircumcision – the signal dispute which gave rise to Galatians – this means nothing at all.
And even more than these, the singularity of the cross of Jesus has broken down the old and universal rules of sin and death. These are no longer in effect as they were before. Sin is forgiven and gives way to faith. Death becomes the gateway to life.
In his own hand Paul writes: “Far be it from me to glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me., and I to the world.” That is to say the old world with its rules and distinctions has been put to death, ended, as far as Paul is concerned. “And I to the world.” That is to say, as far as the old world is concerned I, Paul, am dead and its rules mean nothing to me.
He goes on: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” A new creation. This is the end, the fulfillment – a new creation – of what God purposed and what God has done in Christ. A new creation, which is a re-creation of the world and a recreation of humanity. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”
Again to borrow from physics, the cross of Jesus is rather like the famous “big bang” of cosmological speculation. This may seem far-fetched or perhaps prosaic, but it’s not. In fact, this is a very good image, and, as surprising as it may seem, it was the speculation of a physicist who was also a Roman Catholic priest that gave rise to the phrase. The Belgian Jesuit, Fr. Georges Lemaitre. In 1927 Lemaitre proposed that the vastness of the universe came into being from something so infinitesimal that to measure or even imagine it is impossible. Many cosmologists today accept this as fact. Virtually nothing, and then sudden expansion, explosion – what have you – nothing brought all that is into being. I’m not sure what this really means and I doubt the cosmologists do either, but they have discovered other things about the universe that point to this as highly probable.
So it is with the cross, as Paul sees it. Out of what can only be described as practically nothing – the unjust death of an unknown Jew. What could be more infinitesimal on the world stage than that ? Or even less than nothing – a curse. As Paul reminds us, the law decrees, “cursed be he who hangs upon a tree” (Gal. 3:13). Out of nothing, out of a curse, God has brought into being a “new creation.” No longer accursed by sin, but blessed by holiness. No longer enslaved to the Law and to lust, but free to love and to worship.
A new creation – that is God’s purpose in Jesus. A new creation born on a cross and in a grave, and now by the power of the spirit of the risen Christ renewing the world.
The cross of Jesus, his rising from the dead, the ensuing power of the Holy Spirit, has brought into being a new and recreated world, and it is into that world – that new world of faith and life that Paul invites us to “live and move and have our being.” ( Acts 17:28 )