Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club & Church of the Incarnation,
Not a few of us here are no doubt delighted to hear the Lord proclaim this bit of Good News to us: “The old is good.” The beauty of the ancient is often difficult to see much less appreciate layered as it often is with the dust of history and myth, the grime and gook of being out of fashion, out of a shared groove. There is also—though difficult to articulate and somewhat embarrassing to expose—there is also something in there, in the ancient, the historical and the traditional that forms us, injects into us its genetic virus and pushes up through our flesh and bone, art and music, dance and theatre and invention and disaster, making its inexorable way from Then to Now and guaranteeing its presence—if only in fragments and splices—in a future where it will be fashionable, celebrated, at least for a time. But now, always now for us, the ancient is just old and stains us a sturdy red: old wine. Old wine in old wineskins. Why? “For he says, ‘The old is good.’”
The old is good. Old is endurance, survival, true-tested, lived through and beyond, and wised-up in practice. Haven’t we all heard the voice of the Lord urging us to take up an old life, a life of survival and testing? Aren’t we dared to contest against the world by joining the world in its decadence and attempting to transform it from its belly out? Um, no to both. We are urged by Christ to a new life in him and we are dared to contest against our disordered passions and witness to the world from within the world as Christs. So, what use then is the old to our lives in the new if the old (and all the old gives us) is not what we are called to, dared to? Jesus says, “…no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Do you think that the old opposes the new? Or maybe the other way around? Antiquity vs. novelty? Institution vs. revolution? No, no, no. Without the old there is no new. Without the old there is no nothing! Jesus teaches this point to the Pharisees when he tells them that his disciples will not fast while he is with them. Fasting will come later when he is left them. He says, “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.” In other words, we do not destroy the new to repair the old nor do we disfigure the old with the new. The old is good. The new is waiting to be old and getting better. Together the old and new in you make you exactly who you are in Christ right now. You are your history, your present-promise, and everything you will become. You are old; you are new; and you are Next—whoever you are given to be by God forever!
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us what it means for Christ to be in the image and likeness of his Father. He is the firstborn of all creation. He is before all things. Head of the Body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead and all things will be reconciled for him through him. We, you and I, are baptized into and made partakers of, added as players in the Easter Mystery of Christ. We are Christs, created and re-created in the imago Dei and who he is is who you are right this second—imperfectly Christ as just a “me” but more so and more so and more so as a “we.” Christ is not a new piece sewn to you. He is not new wine poured into your old wineskin. Nor is Christ the old cloak on which you are sown as a new piece. He is not the old wineskin into which you, the wine, are poured. Christ is old and new. He is Wisdom from the beginning and Mercy at the last. He was born before all creation. He is Head of his Body, the Church. And all things—All Things—all-created-things will be reconciled in him at last.
The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ. The fullness of God—old and new—is pleased to seduce us, pleased to lure us to Him. We are stained (at once) a brilliant white and a sturdy red. And as we live and move and have our being in Him, we are his bait--preachers of his Good News!