In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV)
This passage can make us big headed. WE replaced THEM.
THEY are like this box in the garage. (I heard Jerry Seinfeld opine that once an item moves from a closet to the garage, it’s ready to vanish away. It aiiiiiiin’t coming back.) THEY used to be leading innovation, now THEY’RE history.
We need to be careful. Yes, Jesus fulfilled and thus eliminated the blood sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple. But the words of the Old Covenant are not vanishing away. They continue to help us know and follow him,
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-48 ESV)
We are old and passing away too, truth be told. Familiar Christian trappings that helped people of one generation learn and practice the faith become nonsensical and are replaced.
The “mainline” denominations of America are an example. Lutheranism served well to revitalize the faith of various nationalities and went with them to spread it in other parts of the world. Here on America’s Northern Plains, it continues to run on ethnic fumes – there are large numbers of people here who are of Norwegian descent and will tell you that they are Lutheran. They seldom if ever worship in the church and certainly don’t pray, read Scripture or keep any other forms of intentional discipleship.
The average age of my own Episcopal Church membership seems to fulfill Hebrews 8:13. As much as the spirituality of The Book of Common Prayer shapes me and will be with me until I die, the denomination itself is passing away.
Taken as a collective, the mainline churches served to form a broad Christian consensus that gave America social cohesion while generating resources and influence that helped the growth of churches around the world. It is agony to watch the denominations as that reality breaks down. We fragmented to sign up as chaplains to the antagonists of the “culture wars.” Seeking to hold our status as arbiters of national consensus, we watched the ascendance of the LGBT movement and tried to go all in for that influential but tiny portion of the population, with predictably fruitless results. We came out of the closet only to wind up buried in the garage.
But this stuff happens. Powerful rulers helped Christianity spread in pagan lands and later defended it from deadly threats. But the “Divine Right of Kings” is out in the garage. Eastern Christianity had the Byzantine Empire. Orthodoxy is still with us, but that earthly form went to the garage.
One could type such examples for days. Maybe for months and years. Fruitful incarnations of the Christian faith come and go.
That’s because the flesh comes and goes, and the church on earth is an assembly of redeemed flesh that must pass away to stand in eternal glory. We all pass through the garage.
It is fitting that John of the Cross died with his great volume on union with God, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, unfinished. If it were complete and passed around as the how-to manual of Christian life, it would undo his central point, that the “goods” of heaven and earth are not God and must be seen as nada (nothing) if union with God is to be attained.
Our lesson here is that all creatures [Note: this would include all earthly expressions of the Christian religion] are like crumbs that have fallen from God’s table. Those who go about feeding on creatures, then, are rightly designated as dogs and are deprived of the children’s bread because they refuse to rise from the crumbs of creatures to the uncreated Spirit of their Father. (A gloss on Matthew 15:26-27, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel I.6.3, Kavanaugh/Rodriguez translation).
An old, incontinent dog finds it’s bed set up in the garage instead of inside its human owner’s rooms. That’s where it awaits the rolling up of the door, the flood of new light, and the time to bound out with senses made new and fully alive to the true master’s beauty and joy.