Cross covered with purple cloth

Joshua 5:2-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:11-32

Peter Humphris

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The second reading begins with; “From now on”; it is like an arrow pointing towards tomorrow and it invites us, whilst we are still in the wilderness, to contemplate the possibility of Easter. Can we even begin to imagine what reality we might make manifest if we can engage the whole process of dying and rising for ourselves? The possibility of our Easter encounter holds more significance than the gathering of cardinals for a conclave in the Vatican, for we are not looking for a new figurehead, we are looking at a new creation.

The reading from 2 Corinthians affirms that everyone and everything can be different and will be different through the realisation of Easter; [16] ”we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” In the original Greek it says we regard (or see) no one kata sarka, "according to the flesh," and for Paul that encompasses the whole idea of seeing beyond our own self-importance and self-gratification. Paul is encouraging us to see that the process of Easter invites us to roll away the stone from our worldly tombs and step out into the garden of the Divine. Easter is a reconciliation of Genesis: [17] “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Reconciliation is found and realised in dying and rising; everything old has passed away that is the dying, and everything has become new is the rising. This is not literally descriptive of life and death, rather it describes the movement from life into life’s fullness. Dying and rising is the very same process of reconciliation that we find in our “Giving” and “Receiving”.

Paul encourages us to “be reconciled to God” so that “we might become the righteousness of God.” And it is both important and enlightening for us to hear what Paul has to say about the process of our reconciliation. The starting point is in verse 18; “All this is from God”, what Paul is writing about is God’s creative activity and purpose; he speaks of the reality of creation and of the reality of the Divine in all life and being.

Now let’s see the whole of that verse; [18] “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation”. There is no full stop in the verse; Christ did not bring about reconciliation for us, Christ did not do it on our behalf, rather God through Christ “has given us the ministry of reconciliation”. The reconciliation of creation is in our hands, that is what is revealed “through Christ”; the realisation of life lived in the divine, the reconciliation of Genesis, is given to us.

In verse 19 Paul continues to underline and explain this process further; [19] “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” At this point we have to wonder how in history we have failed to grasp this essential insight. God, the very Word of creation, the Divine breath of all that is birthed in love, is seeking reconciliation with creation; a process that is evidenced in Christ and entrusted to us. What we encounter in the gospels is not a revelation of Christ, but Christ’s revelation of ourselves: a revealing of our truth and the Divine process whereby creator and creature can be reconciled, brought together as one; the reality of atonement. Christ is not the agent of atonement, rather the revelation of reconciliation and so an embodiment, and enfleshing, of our truest being.

The reconciliation that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians is then illustrated in the gospel parable. However, before we look at it we need to suspend the judgement that normally accompanies our understanding; remind ourselves that the Divine activity is “not [about] counting their trespasses against them.” In the parable when we look without value-judging we can see that the father gave away all that he had; the prodigal son also gave all away and the elder son (the cautious one) held on to everything. The prodigal son then found himself in a landscape of scarcity, “a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need”; and we might wonder if this was the same place that his brother was in at home.

However, the prodigal son knew where abundance was and returned to seek, and achieve, reconciliation. At the same time, and also with a desire for reconciliation, the father moved toward his son; his movement in harmony with that of his son; and maybe more so in fact, because the narrative says; “while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him”, the father ran! It is both movements that are creative of reconciliation, the father’s and the prodigal son’s movements together bring about the oneness of their desires.

There is a delightful insight here when we apply the parable metaphorically; the Divine moves, runs, toward us as we move into the place of knowing abundance, as we move out of the place of scarcity, with empty hands that are open to receiving the Divine embrace. The elder son, looking as if he is the good boy doing the right thing is blind to abundance; so blind he has to ask a slave what is going on; [26] “He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.” Even when his father pleads with him and explains the reality of abundance, more so the reality of reconciliation, the elder son retains his anger and so holds on to all that blinds him. We can learn much from this parable and perhaps see ourselves, and our possibility for tomorrow, in each of the three characters in the narrative.

The readings today invite us to contemplate OUR ministry of reconciliation, and the part we play in bringing into being “a new creation.” They invite us to look again at atonement, and our oneness with God And the last two verses of the gospel invite us into the reality of Easter; “31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"” And for the days we have in Lent’s wilderness his is the invitation we might consider responding to.

Can we hear the voice of God spoken to us; all that is mine is yours; what does this say about who I am and who we are? And as we look toward OUR dying and rising, can we hear what is said about the Son who returned, the outcome of our repentance; “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

The invitation of Easter is a movement that enables us to come to life; and that will bring about a new creation. Let go, everything old has passed away, and give all that we have into a new creation. For with empty hands we can receive the Divine embrace that runs toward us.

Easter will give us an opportunity to move into life’s fullness, and to see the world differently.

What does our desire seek for tomorrow? Do we want yesterday over again, or do we want to find ourselves in Christ?