Old is Good, New is Better: Creation and Sacraments

Created materiality is good; indeed, it is very good. It is not simply good in an ethical sense but delightful and wondrous. God created the world as a temple in which to dwell, a place where God and humanity would enjoy each other, delight in the wonder of the world, and rest within it.

Materiality, rather than something to be discarded in the end, was designed as a means by which finite, material humans would participate in the communion of God’s life. Creation was not an addendum or a secondary reality but the reality through which humans would experience God and become like God.

But, alas, creation is now broken. It is still good, but broken. It is enslaved, infected with chaos, and subjected to frustration. Nevertheless, creation still performs its role–it is a means by which we participate in the life of God. We still experience God through creation as, for example, when we experience the beauty of God’s creation. We experience God in the little things of creation as well as in its majestic views. Yet, creation is broken. It is filled with pain, hurt, tragedy and death. It is frustrating and we yearn for liberation as creation itself groans for renewal and redemption.

Despite its brokenness, God affirmed the goodness of creation through the incarnation. God became flesh–material. The Son became part of the creation itself, lived within the creation and experienced the Father through creation.

More than this, the Son became new creation. He inaugurated new creation as the new human who was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. The Son is new creation, the new Adam, the new human.

This is where the sacraments become a meeting place between the old and new creations–an encounter moment where God offers humans living in the broken, old creation an experience of the new creation through the exalted Jesus.

The Eucharist is bread and wine, but it is more than bread and wine.  It is not “regular” meal. We may experience God through any meal–whether it is the nightly family meal, the church pot-luck or thanksgiving dinner! Old creation is still good and is still a medium of God’s presence in the world. But the Eucharist is more.

The Eucharist is the experience of new creation. The bread and wine of the old creation become means by which we experience the reality of the new cration. It is still bread and wine–created materiality is not annihilated–but it is also a participation in the reality of the new creation through the presence of Christ.  Whether we think of that presence in the bread, through the bread or at the table is inconsequential to my point here. The Eucharistic meal is a new creation meal that does not annihiliate materiality or creation. Rather, it transforms it, liberates it and brings it to its telos (goal).

Baptism is water but is more than water. It is not a “regular” dip in water. We may experience God in the shower or through a warm, long hot bath.  Old creation is still good and is still a medium of God’s presence in the world.  But Baptism is more.

Baptism is the experience of new creation. The water of the old creation becomes a means by which we experience the reality of the new creation. It is still water–created materiality is not annihilated–but it is also a participation in the reality of the new creation through our union with Christ. In or through Baptism we participate in the eschatological death and resurrection of Jesus. We rise from the watery grave to live as new creatures; participants in new creation. Baptism is a new creation bath in water that does not annihilate materiality or creation. Rather, it ushers us, by the Spirit, into the reality of the new creation where we are raised to sit with Christ in heavenly places at the right hand of God.

Assembly is the gathering of people but it more than a mere gathering.  It is not simply a group of people “hanging out.” We may experience God through hanging out with friends, even going to ballgames and playing in God’s good creation. Old creation is still good and it is still a medium of God’s presence in the world.  But Assembly is more.

Assembly is the experience of new creation. The gathering of God’s people within the old creation becomes a means by which we experience the reality of the new creation. We are still living here in this broken, old creation but through that gathering of material creatures we participate in the reality of the new creation through union with the eschatological assembly of God around the throne of God. Through Assembly we enter the holy of holies as a community and join the community that is already and eschatologically gathered there. We participate in the Sanctus of the angels and join the heavenly chorus, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Neither our materiality nor our creatureliness is annihilated. Rather, through creation we participate in new creation as the Spirit of God takes us into the throne room of  God just as John was lifted there “in the Spirit” in the Apocalypse.

The Eucharist, Baptism and Assembly are meeting places.  They are places, by the promise of God, where God meets us in this old, broken creation in order to experience–to taste, to get a glimpse of–the new creation. They are moments of both authentic participation in the new creation as well as anticipations (hope) of the fullness of new creation.

Through the sacraments, God authentically communes with us and promises that one day the brokenesses of creation will pass away and all creation will be liberated and renewed.

This is why I love the sacraments–they are gifts of God through which we experience new creation and anticipate the new heaven and new earth. They are injections of hope in a broken world, previews of coming attractions, and proleptic experiences of what is to come.



5 Responses to “Old is Good, New is Better: Creation and Sacraments”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for another encouraging and edifying post.
    Hesed,
    Randall

  2. Profile photo of K Rex Butts  K. Rex Butts Says:

    I don’t know if you have ever heard the hymn “Come Holy Spirit, Dove Divine” (words by Adoniram Judson, 1832) but I thought you might appreciate the words:

    “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove divine,
    On these baptismal waters shine,
    And teach our hearts, in highest strain,
    To praise the Lamb for sinners slain.

    “We love Your Name, we love Your laws,
    And joyfully embrace Your cause;
    We love Your cross, the shame, the pain,
    O Lamb of God, for sinners slain.

    “We sink beneath the water’s face,
    And thank You for Your saving grace;
    We die to sin and seek a grave
    With You, beneath the yielding wave.

    “And as we rise with You to live,
    O let the Holy Spirit give
    The sealing unction from above,
    The joy of life, the fire of love.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

    P.S., the hymn is #427 in the “Songs of Faith and Praise” hymnal.

  3.   Brian b. Says:

    John Mark,

    What distinguishes a regular meal from a Eucharistic meal? Are you saying it is the intent of the participant? Is it a Eucharistic meal because I intentionally remember Christ’s death? Does it become baptism because of my intent when I get in the water? Does hanging out become assembly based on the intent of those present?

    Thanks for any additional insight you can provide on this post.

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think it is a synergistic moment, that is, it involves human intent and divine action.

      One one hand, humans claim the promise of God, invoke the presence/action of God through prayer (epiclesis), and act with intent in particular ways (e.g., baptism to obey God, LS to commune with God).

      On the other hand, God acts and does something which we could not accomplish on our own. Part of the significance of his act is invest this meal or water with new creation participation. This transcends “hanging out at MacDonalds” or “taking a shower,” and it becomes sacramental, that is, it participates in the life of God’s new creation.

      It seems to me that Matthew 18:20 has some clarity here–intent plays a significant role and divine presence/action makes it sacrament (or gives it is meaning).

      •   rich constant Says:

        well said john mark
        might add,although this might be a bit redundant to use this word with intent.
        but might we say intent with a pre-disposition of gathering together.
        bypassing the formula of “traditional religion”
        (or ontological theology) on Sunday?
        OR in your thinking should we think only on Sunday?
        Or in a more new perspective of every day is the first day of the week because of the new-creation?
        thanks rich

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