Friday, October 04, 2013

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Late in Trinity Season the Prayer Book gives us a series of six Sundays with readings from Paul’s great Epistle "to the Ephesians."  We spend as much time with this Epistle as the entire season of Lent. We place quotation marks around the words “to the Ephesians” because the manuscripts leave the address blank and our best guess is that Paul wrote this letter to the Christian community at Ephesus as a circular letter to all the churches of the region.

Today’s selection is full of practical wisdom, including the beloved memory verse, “be ye kind one to another.”  But practical wisdom is frequently expressed in mysterious language, “that ye put off the old man,’ and “put on the new man.”  These explicit directions have challenged the translators to come up with words which make more sense.  Here are a few attempts: “Put off your old nature ,... put on the new nature.” (RSV) “Put off the old self, put on the new self.” (ESV), or “leaving your former way of life, you must be made new in mind and spirit” (NEB).

What Paul was getting at in this contrast of old and new, was the familiar contrast of Adam and Christ, “As in Adam all die, in Christ shall all be made alive.” Adam, “the old man” is the fallen sinful human race,” but Christ, the virgin-born “new man,” inaugurated a new humanity.  These respectively stand for the old and new creations.

But more practically speaking, the old Man and new Man refer to each of us, both before and after we become one with Christ through faith in Him. Paul speaks quite graphically, of stripping off and putting on, as we strip off soiled clothing and put on new garments. He frequently speaks of “putting on” Christ as our clothing.  The baptismal liturgy of the ancient Church carried this out ceremonially by giving the newly baptized a special white garment. There was a charming trace of this in the white baptismal dresses which used to be used at christenings.

Paul never suggests that this transformation from old to new man, from Adam to Christ, is an instantaneous event or (much less) the result of some program of moral self-improvement. Bluntly, we are told here to “become what you are.”  You are already new men and women in Christ: now it is for us to become Christ-like.  People have a way of becoming like the clothes they wear. Our behavior and our life-style are shaped by the way we treat our bodies or clothe ourselves.

In the world of the Bible, a person could be identified by his garb. It is still the case that a Christian can be identified by his Christ-likeness.  If we wear Christ as a garment, the world will see Him in us and us in Him.  LKW

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