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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Sweet Exchange

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s Cross and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the Last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.
                           John Donne, "Hymn to God my God".

Donne was playing out a complementary set of themes which can be heard in some ancient Church pastors/theologians. (1) The fall at the tree of the knowledge of good & evil, & our rescue at the cross (a tree of shame turned into the tree of life by Christ’s death and vindicating resurrection), and (2) Adam’s disobedience undone by Christ’s obedience (2 Adams).

For example, St. Irenaeus (late 2nd Century) explains the relationship this way:

“And not by the aforesaid things alone has the Lord manifested Himself, but [He has done this] also by means of His passion. For doing away with [the effects of] that disobedience of man which had taken place at the beginning by the occasion of a tree, “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;” rectifying that disobedience which had occurred by reason of a tree, through that obedience which was [wrought out] upon the tree [of the cross]” (Irenaeus, Against Heretics, V.xvi.3).

In St. Irenaeus’ thought, Christ recapitulates the first Adam, reversing disobedience and sin, annulling the curse by becoming the curse for us, unknotting the tangle of Adam’s death by bringing life through Christ’s death, and triumphing against temptation in a wilderness whereas Adam fell in a paradise.

Or, as it is found in the Epistle to Diognetes, in Christ’s obedient, sacrificial actions there comes about a sweet exchange:

“He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God? O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed [or ‘covered, hidden’-MWP] in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous” (Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 9.2-5, mid-2nd Century)!

The incarnation, faithful life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah has inaugurated the new heavens and new earth, the time of the restoration of all things (Acts 3.21)!

The point of this short recitation is to stress both the individual, personal aspects of God’s world rescue operation, and the larger, cosmic aspect. There is a universality (but not universalism) to the redemption wrought by Christ, that includes me (the individual), but does not absorb me until I thin away into oblivion. On the other hand, the individual (me) is not the tyrannical center of God’s rescue program. He has me in mind and includes me in this larger, bolder, brighter, cosmic restoration.

St. Paul makes this clear as he addresses Christ’s work and some of its consequences:

"Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.18-19).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope,…” (Romans 8.18-22a).

This brings me to one final, concluding thought. If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, body, blood, toenails & hair, transformed and glorified, then none of this will happen, the curse still reigns, karma rules, life is empty, might makes right, and all is vanity of vanities and the chasing after wind.

Christos anesti! Aléthos anesti!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!


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