January 11, 2015
BAPTISM OF THE LORD (B)
Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. – Mark 1: 9
It is significant that Mark tells us that the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the baptism of our Lord. Furthermore, it is evident that this event marks the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. In this, Mark states one of the most fundamental truths of our Christian faith: the Good News of salvation, of the restoration of man to communion with God, begins with baptism.
Now, we baptize people all the time before we allow them to share in the spiritual benefits of the Church. Yet this truth has become so commonplace we take it for granted. We have reduced it to the level of a rite of passage, something traditional to do. We would not think for one minute that John Doe belonged to a college fraternity or that he could be a Knight of Columbus without being initiated. Yet how many think of him as a Christian simply because he lives a morally respectable life, because he is active in civic affairs, or because he may even be seen in Church occasionally? Christ came into the world to break down the seemingly indestructible barrier of sin which separates us from our Creator.
Baptism is not simply a convenient rite of initiation so that we can say that someone is a member of the club. It lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, it is the form of the Christian life. It is both the beginning & the end of the Christian life, to goal toward which we move. Herein lies the paradox: we are in the process of becoming that which we were made at baptism, to wit, oneness with God. Notice how the word atonement, broken down into parts, says at-one-ment.
How, then, is the marvelous feat accomplished? It is made possible, not by us but by God through Christ, and His answer to the question is unmistakably clear: death. The whole point of our Lord’s life, death & resurrection is simply this: it is only through death that we can find life.
But there are many kinds of death that are all around us. There is physical death, which can take a tragic form. There is the death of old ideas & ways of doing things; indeed change – that most constant of companions – is not possible without the death of something. Perhaps that is why we fear change. Then there is the living death of fear itself. The list could go on; but our Lord has shown us that the worst kind of death is that which makes all the other types possible: the death that comes with sin, namely, the inability to love.
St. John tells us that God is love & goes on to say “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” That is, until we can love others unconditionally – even as God has first loved us – no matter how distasteful others may seem to us, then we will be separated from God. This separation is caused by sin, which imprisons us in our selfish little worlds. Thus, it is to sin that we must die.
That’s right, it is the Christian’s job to die, and above all to die to self. This is what happens in baptism. We are crucified with Christ, we take His death upon ourselves, we become christs with a small ‘c’. Through baptism we become a part of Christ’s body. We bear His name; & we assume all the duties of His mission. What an awesome & terrible responsibility this is! It is unimaginable without God’s help.
Of course, sin does not stop with baptism as we know all too well. It is simply no longer the last word in our lives. We now have more to look forward to than sin alone. While we may never be as perfect as our Lord, we have His promise that what we cannot do for ourselves, He will do for us. Baptism, then, has cosmic importance. It alone can make real life possible. It alone can give real meaning to the word “life.” AMEN!