The Second Reading for this coming Sunday is Romans 8:1-11, which begins with this:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
The late New Testament scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, had a special term for the way Paul uses this little Greek adverb nyn in his letter to the Romans. He called it the “eschatological now.” Paul declares repeatedly that, because of Jesus’ ministry, death, and Resurrection the old age is ending and the new one dawning. And due to God’s gifts of faith and baptism, Christians live in that new “now.”
My dear, departed New Testament teacher, Fred Danker, would say, most exuberantly, “Welcome to the Great Party! Welcome to God’s New Age.”
Of course we have heard repeatedly that, because of the onslaught of Covid-19, the whole world is living in a new age. Add to that the worldwide uproar over the unnecessary and unjust deaths of George Floyd and many other black people at the hands of stupid and most likely biased actions of the police, and we have another dimension to the newness of our times.
But, faith and baptism usher us into the new. And this New Age in Christ far outstrips the new age of the virus and the social upheavals that have come in its wake.
As Fitzmyer pointed out in his 2008 commentary on Romans, there are a whole string of amazing declarations that the Apostle makes about this New Age in Christ. You can read them for yourself in these passages where he uses the adverb, and the interesting construction “nyn kairos” which gets translated “present time” in the NRSV: 3:26; 5:9, 11; 6:22; 7:6; 8:1, 18; 11:5, 30, 31; 13:11.
You will, undoubtedly find all sorts of deep meanings reading these passages in their context. But I find most interesting in our reading of 8:1-11 this idea of “no condemnation.” Paul goes on to say that we are freed from the “law of sin and death.” We are not free from sin and death themselves, but from living under their dominion, their rule and their law. In other words, we are not slaves. He adds that, in this new condition and New Age, we do not live “according to” flesh, but to Spirit. We do not “set our minds” on flesh, but Spirit.
Volumes have been, and will continue to be written, about what these words mean. But I believe that at least one aspect of these ideas has been well explored in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. This German pastor and theologian, who resisted and was then martyred by the Nazis, wrote about the New Age phenomenon at work in genuine Christian community. Bonhoeffer claims that the love that binds Christians together in a mighty force in this world is not an “emotional” but a “spiritual” love. In the many pages he devotes to this distinction the foundational idea is that emotional love attaches itself directly to the other, but the spiritual love makes Christ the center, and loves the other through Christ.
Loving another directly isn’t quite what it sounds like. It is really loving a fantasy. We love an idealized form of others. We project onto them all that we desire; and when they fail to rise up to that fantasy, we turn against them. Loving in this way means we certainly cannot love our enemies. We cannot love in a truly servant role—nor can we love those who do love with a servant-love.
When we love spiritually, and through Christ, we love others, and our community as a whole, as they are. We do not love conditionally. We love others the only way we ourselves can be genuinely loved – in spite of our failures, selfishness, and sin. Spiritual love alone binds the community of believers together so that they can be a force for good in the world.
One special way living in the New Age of the Christian helps us cope with the new age of the virus is that it gives us the means to draw strength from community even when we are physically apart. There is a new kind of togetherness that is made possible in the New Age. Prophets through the ages, and particularly John, of the Book of Revelation, realized that “in the Spirit” we are joined by a spiritual host from the heavenly realms. There are angels, and saints, and all varieties of spirits that live now fully in the peaceable Kingdom, where not even a virus can harm. And they will all accompany us in our tears and in our laughter.
In this extraordinary time, which turns out to be too ordinarily filled with a mix of human goodness and evil, we must, in our hearts and minds, resolutely remember that this is our New Age. We sin. We will die. But, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Loving spiritually we will endure and overcome.
And, no matter what, we are never alone.
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