Have you ever come back from the dead or known someone who has? Christian faith is based on the promise of resurrection. Coming back from the dead is also a key narrative idea to much story-telling in our society and culture: from the Game of Thrones (the massive hit TV Show concluding tonight) to such literary oeuvres as Les Misérables, A Tale of Two Cities, and even in pop culture stories like Batman and Star Wars. We’ve all heard the remarkably common stories of people who have died on a hospital table or elsewhere and then come back through medical or possibly divine intervention. They speak of traveling a tunnel of light. They also share a common new approach to life: re-arranging their life priorities and relationships because they no longer fear death.
Death is the great certainty of life, no matter how much we flee and avoid it with face-creams, exercise, better diets, and medical creations. We are born and we will die. The most recent confession of faith adopted by the Presbyterian Church begins from this certainty grounding faith in this paradox saying, “In life and in death we belong to God.” (A Brief Statement of Faith)
We continue our series on the sacraments, in particular, baptism. Last week we spoke of baptism as repentance, a continual returning to our center (God) for vision, direction, and life. Today we read from Romans 6 where the apostle Paul, the first great theologian of the Church, talks of baptism as a death: our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. While it can sound morbid to recognize that we invoke this image when we baptize followers of the Jesus Way – even babies – it’s more like the fearless radical re-orienting of life for those who’ve survived near-death life experiences than it is like a horror movie or sacrifice.
The reformer Martin Luther, who faced much adversity and anxiety in his life (1483–1546), was said to regularly remind himself “I am baptized” – not in the past tense, but in the continuing present tense – to find centering strength in the face of hardship. He wrote:
Baptism is the greatest event in our lives; nothing else in all of life can begin to compare to the significance and importance of God’s gift of a new and eternal life through baptism. If there is anything we should daily remember, if there is anything we should keep from forgetting, it would most certainly be our baptism! The act of baptism is quickly over as we can plainly see. But, the drowning of sin and our rising to a new life lasts throughout our whole life. Therefore, the life of a Christian, from our beginning in baptism to the grave, is nothing else than a series of deaths and risings to prepare us for our final day when God will make us altogether new.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What shimmers in your attention in this reading?
- Where do you find strength to persevere in life?
- How might remembering your baptism recenter you?
Download the text study sheet we’ll use in our Vocabulary of Faith class discussion at @CAPCOakland HERE.