This morning we gather to celebrate the culmination of our forty day journey. A journey that began on Ash Wednesday. At that time, I invited us into a very different sort of Lenten journey. I asked us to let go of what we think we know and who we are and journey with me as if we were members of the ancient Catechumen-ate, preparing for Baptism and their first opportunity to be part of the greater worshipping congregation on Easter morning. I asked us to do this as it was the tradition of the early church to have those preparing for Baptism, to worship and study separately from the greater community and to be denied the Holy Eucharist until after Baptism.
In medieval architecture, great buildings were erected just in front of the main entrance or west entrance to the great cathedrals; at their center, these buildings contained great baptismal fonts. On the night before Easter, the Easter Vigil began in these magnificent baptisteries, the candidates at the appointed moment ascended the western steps of the baptismal font, walked into the water and were immersed by the priest in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then walked out of the font, descended the eastern stairs, were robed in white and exited through the easters doors of the Baptistery and then entered the darkened cathedral through the west entrance where they kept watch for the first light of Easter morning and to hear the words, Alleluia, Christ is risen.
It is sad that over the centuries we have lost the drama of the Rite of Baptism and relegated the symbolic physicality of immersion with the niceties of simply pouring water over ones head. Without the physicality of immersion, the symbolic nature of baptism, of literally dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ is somehow (no pun intended) watered down along with the depth of St. Paul’s words to the Romans, that through the waters of baptism we are united, made one with both Christ’s death and resurrection and are therefore freed from sin.
But what does it mean to be united, made one with Christ’s death and resurrection? I believe that during the days leading up to Easter, we often find ourselves focused on the wrong elements of the Passion. So often we lose the focus as we get caught up in the denials of Peter, the coldness of the chief priests and Pilate, the anger of the crowd and ultimately the violence of the crucifixion itself. But as we read through all four accounts of the crucifixion, we realize the question of the passion is not if the resurrection will take place, but will Jesus stay in perfect union with God the Father. Syracuse University Professor of Religion, Dr. Anthony Bartlett argues what made Jesus truly divine is that he shared fully in the compassion of God. Among the seven last words from the cross, three of the statements concern acts of compassion, to Mary his mother he proclaims the beloved disciple now her son “Mother behold your Son,” to the bandit who acknowledges his innocence he tells him he will join Christ in paradise and even in the midst of horrific suffering, Jesus asks the Father’s forgiveness for all who are involved, “Father, forgive them for the do not know what they have done.” What Dr. Bartlett states is that the incarnation of God’s passion so greatly shook the world at its roots that the whole world has taken notice. And in regards to the words of Paul ” through Baptism, we are united in Christ’s death and resurrection”, Dr Bartlett would state, it is the spark of compassion in each of us is that is the divine which resides with in us, and through our baptism, the compassion that is within us is united with the divine compassion of Christ.
But St. Paul does not end his statement with being united in Christ’s death and resurrection. Oh, no, he goes on to say that through Baptism we are freed from sin. Does this mean after baptism we sin no more? Oh . . .if this were only true, the line to the font by young parents would be endless in the hopes that baptism would guard them against the anguish of adolescent recklessness. So yes, we do continue sinning, but as Paul tells us, we are not bound to the limitations of sin, for through the waters of Baptism we die to our old life and rise into new life. The life of the resurrected Christ. This is a new life in which we no longer see this world through the eyes of humanity but through the eyes of God. This means we can see the world as God sees it, along with the dream God has for all of creation and to know anything is possible. Or, to borrow from the thoughts of Ellen Davis, through Baptism we are we are provided the ability to engage the religious imagination and to know through God this world can be a better reality.
Last year, during the season of Advent, I preached on Christ’s vision for the world, the vision of a restored creation, the vision of God’s reign complete on earth. As part of the series I discussed that the core elements of God’s reign encompass, inclusion, compassion and divine justice. Today, through the words of our gospel passage, we are given the opportunity with the beloved disciples to experience the empty tomb and the empty grave clothes, signs that the power of God’s love continues to pervade the world, undeterred by waves of death or destruction.* Or as St. John writes in his gospel, “the light entered into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As members of the baptized, we are not just witnesses to the hope of the resurrection, we are united TO the resurrection; and therefore we are a part of the resurrection, the body of the risen Christ, the Church. As the resurrection, we are called through the words of Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord by being the embodiment of divine compassion and justice in this world.
As the ones united in Christ’s death and resurrection, St. Theresa of Avila tells us, we are the hands and feet of Christ. Every time we gather for prayer and to break bread together, we are the resurrection, every time we proclaim by word and example the compassion of God we are the resurrection , every time we seek and serve Christ in the least of our society we are the resurrection, every time we strive for divine justice, the resurrected Christ live through us as;
Christ has no body now on earth but (y)ours, no hands but (y)ours, no feet but (y)ours (Y)ours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world (Y)ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; (Y)ours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
On this most happy morning, we come together to celebrate the resurrection, the fact that the light has entered the darkness and the darkness has not over come it. We celebrate that through the resurrection, the limitations of sin and death have been defeated. And with all the saints of God, both present, past and yet to come, we re-commit ourselves to being the resurrection through the vows of our Baptism.
Alleluia, Christ is risen, the lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.