Thursday, April 28, 2011

In baptism you died and, absolved from sin, you rose in Christ. Sermon of April 23rd

Easter Vigil
April 23rd, 2011
Romans 6:3-11

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin.

The early Christians would great one another with the proclamation of the Good News of the resurrection saying, “Christ is risen!” And the response, “He is truly risen!” And, for the early Christians, and indeed for all Christians of all times and places, this affirmation of the historical reality of the resurrection of our Savior was not merely the profession of faith in a past event, but rather the realization of the power of this event in the souls of all the faithful.
Certainly, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are historical events which were accomplished 2000 years ago – but they are more than simply this. The death, burial and resurrection are not merely something which happened in the past, nor is the Paschal Mystery something which happened only to Christ. No, we are meant to live in this reality continually, and to participate in it.

There are two ways in which we might speak about redemption: There is the objective redemption which Christ accomplished once for all when he died upon the Cross and was risen for our salvation. But there is also the subjective redemption by which the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection are applied to all who believe in him in every place and time.
Objective redemption is when Christ died and rose, once for all. Subjective redemption is when Christ dies and rises in us – and when we die and rise in him. Objective redemption will not bring us salvation unless it be applied through subjective redemption.

Objective redemption was the subject of the Gospel reading from St. Matthew – Christ was truly risen from the dead, the tomb was empty, and the women rejoiced in him.
Subjective redemption was the subject of the Epistle of St. Paul. Now there are many reasons why we look forward to this reading from St. Paul each year – among these is the fact that, when he hear the reader state, “A reading from the Letter of St. Paul…” we know that the Gospel is finally approaching and the nine readings are almost over! J
However, there is much more than this – St. Paul speaks to us of the means by which the objective redemption which Christ accomplished 2000 years ago in Jerusalem is applied to each of us today. St. Paul explains to us the mysteries which we celebrate at this Easter Vigil.

We participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus – in his objective redemption – through baptism and the other sacraments. St. Paul tells us most clearly, You who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized into his death. Baptism is a dying and a rising in Christ. Baptism is a true death and a true resurrection in the Lord.
In the waters of baptism, we die and are buried in Christ. And then we rise up from the font with Christ who has risen from the tomb. In the sacrament of baptism the good Jesus dies and rises in us, and our souls die and rise in him.

Now do not be mistaken: This is a true and a real death. It is true and real because it is a sacramental death. Baptism is real precisely because it is a sacrament – and you know that the sacraments are the most real things on earth! Indeed, if anything at all is real and true, the sacraments are real and true. Indeed, in baptism you and I have truly and really died, and we have truly and really been raised in Christ. Now, we must live that new life in him.
As the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a real and true presence, so too the death of baptism is a real and true death. The only difference between the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the death we experience in baptism is that the Lord is substantially present in the Eucharist.
Through the mystery of transubstantiation, the bread and wine truly and really and substantially become the body and blood of Jesus. There is a substantial change in the Eucharist, but there is no substantial change in baptism. Baptism is a true death, and it is a real death – but it is not a substantial death. If it were a substantial death, then we priests would end the night in prison! J

No the death and resurrection of baptism is not a substantial dying and rising, but it is real and it is still true, because it is sacramental. In the sacrament of baptism we really die and rise in Christ. And this death is so real that St. Paul can say, The one who dies is absolved from sin. And, since we have died in baptism, we are now free from the debt of sin and from the yoke of the Law.
And what kind of death is this which we undergo in baptism? It is a crucifixion! The death of baptism is so real that St. Paul can say: You have been crucified with Christ!

The mysteries we celebrate in the Easter Triduum are not merely events which took place thousands of years ago to the man Jesus of Nazareth – no, they are the commemoration of events which have taken place in us. For the death and resurrection of our baptism is just as real and true as the death and resurrection which Christ experienced in his own body upon the Cross.
Once, upon Golgotha, the Lord suffered death and gained resurrection in his body according to his proper species. Now and through all time, the good Jesus suffers death and gains resurrection in his body the Church according to his sacrament of baptism – and we, his body, participate in the one death he died for all; with the firm hope that we will share also in the resurrection unto life everlasting.