Saturday, April 11, 2009

Baptism received and Baptism lived unto death

The Easter Vigil – 11 April 2009

Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word this evening we were invited to “listen attentively to the word of God, recalling how he saved his people throughout history and, in the fullness of time, sent his own Son to be our Redeemer”.

What is being saved or redeemed all about anyway? It’s about passing from death to life, about going, so to speak, where Christ has gone before us, namely about going home to God the Father and for all eternity in joy. It’s about coming into the light, waking up to God’s world, about coming to know the truth. It is not my own venture but rather it is about getting caught up in the whirlwind/the fiery chariot to heaven like the prophet Elijah. It is being immersed in the waters of the sea with Moses and God’s Chosen People and coming out of those waters to new life freed from the slavery of Egypt or, in our case, freed from the slavery of sin. Baptism received and Baptism faithfully lived unto death: that is being saved. It is being carried by God and His Church until we’re old enough, not to carry ourselves, no, until we are old enough to recognize that we are carried by God and then to thank Him on bended knee for His marvelous gift of self to each of us personally. It’s being carried by God as He carried His People of old and recognizing in thanksgiving that we too just like them, though in a more perfect way and unto a better end, are being carried. Salvation or Redemption is something ultimately accomplished not in this life but in and through death which opens the gates to life eternal, such that when standing before the Judgment Seat of God we hear those words, “Come ye blessed of My Father; come share your Lord’s joy!”

Those people, who don’t baptize their children as tiny babies, because they want them to have a choice, have not understood anything about the nature of salvation. They claim for themselves something we as human beings don’t have, namely the power to claim salvation for ourselves. We cannot save or redeem ourselves. Whether we are four days old or four decades old, we are carried or led by others to the font of Baptism. Baptism may be my choice, if I receive that sacrament as an adult, but only in a sense is it by my choice. I do not claim or demand Baptism from God’s Church. In truth, I am called to the font or I am presented at the baptismal font: infant, child, youth, adult, aged – it is all the same. With Baptism I am accepting the gift of God’s life freely given to me through the mediation of the Church which expresses God’s love for me in concrete fashion and gives me, gives me a share in His life this side of death and beyond for all eternity. No matter how bright or intelligent we might be, it is the Risen Christ Who extends His Hand to us; it is Jesus Who draws us out of the swamp; Jesus takes us to Himself. Even as an adult He embraces me; no one has his or her bearings well enough to manage this passage alone; I as much as any baby am in a sense lost in the ocean of God’s love for me in which He and His Church immerse me, me by name, me Thomas, me as He knows me, really better than I know myself. Baptism received and Baptism faithfully lived unto death does involve my responsibility, but as one who is part of the New Covenanted People, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. I am as much a part of God’s People the Church as Moses, Aaron, Miriam and others were part of the people God called out of slavery in Egypt; I am carried through life by His Church; I do not journey through life alone.

Let us think for a moment of the three women going to Jesus’ Tomb after the Sabbath to complete the anointing which there was no time to do at the moment of His hasty burial on Friday. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” they ask. They soon learned that there was no need to worry. Not only had the stone been moved for them, but a young man waited to tell them: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here.” The stone is rolled back. The Tomb is empty. Jesus, the Crucified One, is no longer within. He is risen as He said and goes before them. God saves His people! God saves His people!

What is salvation? What is redemption? It is God’s wonderful work. St. Paul in tonight’s Epistle, taken from his letter to the Romans says: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.” The big stone over the door of the tomb not only blocked the way to the dead Christ, but it certainly held locked there within that tomb the hearts and lives of those women and many others from among His disciples and followers. Christ’s death on the Cross had put an end to the hopes of His followers and disciples. In a very real sense they had been buried in the Tomb with Him; their hopes and dreams, to a great extent their very lives, their future had certainly been buried with Him on that Friday long ago. Keep reading St. Paul! “If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.” If Jesus’ Body had still been in the Tomb, the women would have completed His anointing, the stone would have been returned to its place and that would have been the end of it. However, that was not the case. They found the stone rolled back; Jesus was not there. His followers not only had their hearts and hopes back, they had much more. He is risen as He said and goes before them. God saves His people! God saves His people!

This is our Passover Feast when Christ the True Lamb was slain, Whose Blood consecrates the homes of all believers. The Easter Vigil we are celebrating is a celebration of watching and waiting, of listening and reflecting. “Alleluia” we say! Easter promise and Easter joy is now ours! We are saved; we have been redeemed in Christ; we have been drawn out of the waters of Baptism unto life eternal.

These days, the world financial crisis has further burdened the lives of many and brought anguish to some folks who thought they had it made. I won’t point fingers at anyone for placing all of his or her trust in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, but in point of fact it has happened. No doubt you too, as do I, find it frightening how many lives have been touched by the misfortunes of the stock market and the shenanigans of greedy and dishonest people preying upon other people for all they are worth, profiting from other’s greed or envy, no matter if it be big or small. As much as we claim to scorn get-rich-quick schemes, we can probably find a friend or acquaintance who had money invested somewhere for an unbelievable return and lost it. Some of these same people who have managed to come away with at least a part still intact of their mad money or retirement investment are turning right around and giving out their money again to others who claim to give them the same high-yield return as those who yesterday drew down with them into the abyss of bankruptcy people expecting way too much from this life. It would seem that these folks are stuck on the here and now. They don’t seem to share the prophet Isaiah’s dream of life as part of God’s covenanted people:

“Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.”

What does it mean to be saved or redeemed? What do we mean by Easter joy? When we sing at Baptism “You have put on Christ”, what do we mean and where are we going? We’re going farther than a profession, or prestige, a successful marriage, a big money market investment account or even terribly bright and successful children can take us.

I hope you had a very successful Lent and were able to refocus or better concentrate your life on Christ. We need that. It’s too easy to lose track of that first question in the old catechism which has kept more than one generation of Catholics centered and happy. “Why did God make me? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next.” Lent is over for another year and we have every reason to rejoice!

Alleluia! Easter joy!

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