“To be in Christ” is St. Paul’s insight into humanity. He sees human beings in God, and God’s presence in human beings. This vision of humanity was grounded in his Jewish tradition, but made much more explicit and clear through God’s presence and actions in Christ Jesus. Not even the Hebrew prophets clearly see each individual human being as living in God, and God in each person.The intense presence of God in Christ, experienced by men and women, changed their vision of humanity. The first martyr (after Jesus), St. Stephen, stoned to death as Paul watched, is reported in Acts to have said: “God does not dwell in buildings made of stone, but in hearts of human flesh.” Had a Hindu mystic said such words to his people, they would not have been surprised; but for Jews focused on worship in the Temple, it was too much to bear—indeed, “blasphemy.” For those who experienced God in Christ, as Paul did in his vision of the Resurrected Christ, their understanding of humanity was radically and profoundly changed. In Christ, we share this new vision of human being in God, and God in human being.
“Old things have passed away.” Yes, and no. When one has had an overwhelmingly powerful experience of God, as St. Paul did in his vision of Christ, one’s entire understanding of reality changes. God is not a being “out there,” and human beings are not just “bodies with souls.” The Apostle Paul realized that the divine presence is everywhere, penetrating all beings and things by “the Spirit.” Reality itself is being transformed by divinity. The “new things that have come” result from the free working of the creator-God in and through creatures. The Apostle was intensely aware of God working in and through him. That awareness is at the core of the church as “the body of Christ.” “You are members of Christ, and individually members of one another.” That is a mystical vision of humankind being renewed, transformed, by God in us.
And yet, the Apostle’s words need a cautionary note. Old things do not just pass away when God is present. Even experiencing divine presence, the Apostles remained human beings, each with characteristic flaws. God’s grace, his loving presence, transforms gradually, as a human being freely cooperates, and lives a virtuous life. Some resist. Some refuse God’s free working. Some of us keep resisting. The good news is that ultimately, God triumphs in humanity, and “God will be all in all,” using St. Paul’s words.