I’ve always loved the magic of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Out of the whole story one image tugs perpetually at my imagination: the lamp-post that grows in the midst of the wintery forest. Such a puzzle, such an anomaly. Whenever I walk through a wooded expanse, I secretly long to see an old-fashioned lamp-post, magically alive, lighting the path. If I ever did happen upon such a thing, it would cause me to question everything I believed about the world. It might even refresh my hope that there is mystery afoot, a deep magic that says, ‘The world it not as it seems.’ The cross of Jesus is something like this. More on this later. Last things first…
In this, the final chapter of Galatians, Paul says a lot of important things about life in community. He knows that we are human and, because of this, he knows, we are going to have trouble getting along. We may even really hurt each other. There is one solution: fulfill the ‘law of Christ.’ What is this ‘law’? ‘Bear one another’s burdens,’ Paul says; that is, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Sounds easy. Let’s do it.
But, wait a minute. Paul knows that we are caught in somewhat of a double-bind. As long as we are in this life, we are going to do some dumb, selfish things. As much as we want to ‘fulfill the law of Christ,’ we are going to fail sometimes. So, what is Paul’s solution to this? It all comes down to the Spirit. “Sow to the Spirit,” Paul says, “and you will experience the benefits of ‘eternal life’ in your midst.” The healing, restorative grace of God will blossom in your midst. When we blow it, and our common life comes unraveled, God steps into the gap. Fulfilling the law of Christ through us. And this is not to be a slavish duty, but a way to participate in the transformative love of God that has been set loose in our midst. This love works in ways contrary to our expectations, catching us off guard. Living this Spirit-filled life is not to be a drudgery, but a journey of imagination-inspired, community-enacted discipline. The discipline of planting a crop and sticking around long enough to watch it grow.
Waiting can be tiresome, though. What do we do in the meantime, as we are waiting to see how God is going to set right what feels to us so wrong about this world? Paul says, “Contemplate the cross…the cross of Christ.” And what about that world that seems so wrong to us? Paul says that that world has been crucified along with Jesus. The old world has undergone a painful and agonistic crucifixion. And what is being born in its place? New Creation! That’s all Paul says. He doesn’t explain. He gets so excited he just blurts it out, “New Creation!” If we don’t get it, if we don’t understand it, Paul says, “Think on the cross.” Look beyond everything you think you know about the cross. See beyond every way the cross has been used to abuse people in this world. The cross of Christ has the power to transform both our vision and our actions. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “While you are waiting for the harvest, set the cross in the midst of your planted fields,” and it will be such an oddity, such a conundrum (like a lamp-post in the middle of a wintery forest), that it will cause us to stop, to re-think, and to re-focus our vision, so that we are startled out of our dreamlike states, so that we can see that God is doing something radically new in our midst.
End of sermon, almost.
Post Script: Paul’s encounter with the cross of Christ has left him marked for life. (In the Greek, he says that he bears the ‘stigmata’ of Christ. He means that his life, dedicated to serving his neighbor as love’s slave, has left him marked for life…for life!) The cross of Christ marks us for life as well. We are called to offer ‘life’ to our sisters and brothers in faith and to the world. Look for the cross of Christ out in this old world of ours, and the cross will call to us, like a beacon in a frozen, barren wasteland, drawing us to those places left still untransformed, waiting and longing for ‘New Creation.’