11 April 2009

"This is the night..."

This is the night which shines with the glory of Christ’s resurrection – the night in which we recall and reaffirm our own participation in His resurrection, which is ours through the power of baptism. And this is the night when we consider what baptism means for daily life. Baptism is a one-time event, but it isn’t something that’s done once and then simply remembered with a certificate, like graduations and anniversaries. It’s something done once, but with eternal effects – and so in that sense, baptism isn’t just a one time thing “over and done with.” It’s a daily thing in its effects: baptism is a daily garment, something we wear each and every day. In baptism God has marked us with His seal of ownership; He has branded us as sheep of His pasture, and taken away the stain of original sin by washing us with Christ. The Christian life is a daily baptism; and baptism is the daily life of a Christian. It’s a daily dying and rising. Just as we go to sleep each night and get up in the morning, so we daily die to sin and rise up to live in Christ through our baptism.

St. Paul writes, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" (Romans 6:3). He writes this as though everyone would know this and agree wholeheartedly with it. We were buried with Christ by baptism into His death, and so we are united with the death of Jesus.

In the death of Jesus on the cross, God has given the world a death in which a sinner has a choice: we can either die now in the death of Jesus and live forever in His life, or we can live now apart from the death of Jesus, and die forever in our own death. There is no third option. Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead. Scripture teaches us that "the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." (Romans 6:10). Baptism joins us to the death of Jesus. It nails us to His cross; it buries us in His tomb. God has put our sin out of His sight. He has buried it in the death of His Son. He has hidden it in His wounds. He has sealed it up in His grave.

In baptism is our hope. "If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6:5). We know how our story ends. We know how the last chapter comes out for those who are joined to Christ. Christ has died. And we have died with Him. Christ has risen. And we will rise with Him. That means whatever may come our way in this life - whether poverty, disease, pain or persecutions - our present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. Whatever burden the cross of Christ may bring to us now, it doesn’t compare with what will be ours in the resurrection.

But baptism sets us in a struggle. Because of our baptism, we have become the enemy of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures. The devil rants and roars against baptism, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep us away from living in its power. The world hated Christ and crucified Him, and so the world tries to crucify everyone who is joined with Christ.

But by confessing our sins, we bury them in baptism. We drown our sins in the flood that flowed from Jesus' side. This is what St. Paul means when he says, "Reckon yourselves dead to sin." (Romans 6:11). We are to confess our sins. We are to disown them by nailing them to Christ’s cross and by burying them in Christ’s grave. In confession, baptism is being put to work for us, unleashing the power of Jesus' death and resurrection in our lives. We can’t conquer sin by ourselves; Christ conquers sin for us, and He does it through the daily action of baptism.

So baptism means life - new life in the life of Jesus Christ. We no longer live, but we died and were buried, and so Christ now lives within us. His life is our life. Our life is the resurrected life of Jesus. He is at work in us and through us. We are "alive to God in Christ Jesus" and it's only in Christ Jesus that we are alive to God. Apart from Him, we would be dead - but because we are joined to Him by baptism, so we live.

O God, who didst make this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in thy Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship thee in sincerity and truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.