“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
“And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me: Write, for these words are most faithful and true.” Rev. 21:5
Thus spoke Qoheleth of Jerusalem about three centuries before Christ. This great Jewish teacher of popular wisdom had examined the world of man over a long lifetime, and had come to the conclusion that all in this world is ultimately vanity; he insisted that the true meaning of life is always hidden from man. He noted that riches and pleasures do not bring lasting happiness, for they cannot save one from the grave. Moreover, he noted that good people often suffer more than evil people in this world, and that, he said, is a supreme vanity. Indeed, wrote Qoheleth, there is nothing new under the sun, and thus life is ultimately monotonous, enjoyment is fleeting and vain, and darkness and death quickly follow. From all this he concluded from that life is truly an enigma that is beyond our human ability to solve.
Now Qoheleth was not an atheist, but he couldn’t find any solid hope for life in this world nor any ultimate meaning for human life here and now. He was content to await the answer from God in the world to come. This world simply could not supply the answer to the riddles of human existence. So, for Qoheleth, then, the answer to the mystery of life could only come from beyond this world, from the God who created it. In heaven perhaps we will learn the meaning of the mystery of human life and find some rest for our souls. As for this life, we must live with the fact there is never anything new under the sun.
But Qoheleth was in fact wrong. In truth, we Christians know for certain that with the coming of Christ there are in fact now quite a number of things that are new under the sun, events and persons and things that are in fact utterly new and astonishing. One of those events that is utterly new and unique in human history is the sacred event we celebrate on this day, and it is an event that ultimately provides the true meaning for all of human history and already sheds its wonderful light on the riddle of human existence? This utterly new thing under the sun, dear brothers and sisters, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Of course, this joyful event is itself utterly dependant on another even greater and more wonderful event which had only one witness, that is, the event of the Incarnation of God in this world, whose sole witness was Mary His mother. But let us focus today solely on the event that we are celebrating. Think just about this one glorious event. Never before had death been so totally defeated like this; never before had man truly triumphed over the grave. This is truly an utterly new thing that has in fact occurred under the sun, that is, which has occurred in time and history, under the sun as it were, and it was witnessed at least post-factum by at least 500+ eye witnesses as Paul testifies, in 1 Corinthians 15:6-8), where he states unequivocally, “Then he appeared to more than 500 hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive.”
It is this unique event which took place under the sun, in this world and it history, that changes all of human history and reveals the final truth, hope and destiny concerning the human person, all of us. Man has always carried in his heart a profound rebellion against his subjection to death, a deep sense that this was never meant to be by God, that human life somehow was not meant to be subject to suffering and decay and finally death. Christianity and Judaism are religions that, by divine inspiration, protest against death, and our Sacred Scriptures are a ringing affirmation of the truth that death was not meant to be man’s natural destiny.
Death poses a challenge to the very meaning of life, and our religion and its sacred writings testifies to man’s long attempt to understand the meaning of a creature’s existence who longs for unending life and happiness yet is struck down inevitably by suffering and death. Man is the creature who not only dies but the creature who alone knows all his life that death awaits him, and he knows that death is the ultimate contradiction of his whole way of thinking about life and living. It is death, as Qoheleth once testified, that seems to make all things vanity in this world. It is death that makes life seem to lack any ultimate meaning.
Now, Qoheleth did not live to see this new thing that gives meaning to human existence and even to human suffering and death. But there were in fact other new “prophets” privileged to witness to this new thing under the sun. Paul himself testifies to this as do the Gospel writers and over 500 witnesses mentioned by Paul. Their testimony is of course post factum, since no one was present to witness the actual moment of his resurrection. But these privileged witnesses did historically encounter the risen Lord in his renewed presence in this world, after he was put to death by the Romans. And Paul allows these witnesses to be interrogated, since most, he says, were still alive at the time.
These witnesses could, and some did, actually touch his risen body and probe the wounds of death which remained as witnesses to the fact that this was the very same person who had died on the Cross, pouring out His life-blood through those very wounds, until only water came forth. They could not see his divine person, even after His resurrection, but they could and did have historical encounters with Him, resurrected from the dead. Here was something truly, radically, new under the sun, and its factuality would ultimately make all things new, including the sun.
Blessed Qoheleth looked forward to something new in the next world. But this is something that has already happened in this world. Moreover, after the resurrection of Jesus, we hear his words in the Book of Revelations: “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) Yes, by the power of his death and resurrection, Jesus has in fact begun the process of the final transformation of God’s creation. By his resurrection He does not abandon this world, or the human body, but he is now at work making all new by the power of His saving death and resurrection. It all began there, in the tomb, with his own body; but it now continues today through the sacraments, also new things under the sun, and we see this transformation of creation especially in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
By Baptism, we are made new creatures, by being inserted sacramentally into the events of Christ’s death and resurrection. By our sacramental participation in his death, we die to sin, Original Sin and all personal sins; by sacramentally participating in His resurrection, we rise to become new creatures, God’s own children by adoption. We do not put off our bodies, but put on Christ, and we truly become new creations in Him.
And likewise with the Eucharist, we see this divine transformation of earthly elements, bread and wine, anticipating the end time when all things will be made new. Bread and wine are transformed, and become the very body and blood of Christ, which in turn becomes our food for Eternal life. All this happens already right here, in this world, and this newness of creation will be completed in this world, when Christ returns in glory.
Christianity is not a rejection of the body or of the world as if they were in themselves unimportant, or evil. The Resurrection and the Eucharist are the deepest religious affirmations of the goodness of all creation and its permanent value. For even when all is transformed, it will still be these same bodies and this same universe that will remain forever, and will forever be something new under the Sun.
Today Christians everywhere proclaim their faith and their joy that Jesus Christ is truly risen and alive and in our midst. This is no belief based upon some message from outer space, or from the inner space of man’s religious imagination. It is based upon the witness of men and women who themselves were once as hopeless of overcoming death in this world as anyone in their world. The women were going to the tomb to dress the body, not a living body but a dead one. Mary Magdalene even wept after she saw the empty tomb; she wondered where someone had taken the body. The Apostles were in hiding, not waiting for Jesus to rise but more likely waiting for the coast to clear so they could escape, or at least waiting for a message from God as to “what now?” Like Qoheleth, they too expected nothing new under the sun. Jesus had to prove to them that he was not a ghost, and their hesitancy to believe is ironically a great support for our own faith. They came to deeply believe in His Divinity because they touched His risen humanity. 2000 years later we believe in both because of their word and God’s gift of faith to us. Easter true does make all things new. May God increase our Christian faith on this Easter Day, so we too can know that unbridled joy of those first witnesses to the first truly thing new under the sun since the moment of creation itself.