Friday, 29 March 2013

Reflections for Good Friday: 3, The Body to Which we Are Joined

Talk 3: Romans 6:1-8, The Body To Which We Are Joined
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
The mood of many Good Friday meditations and hymns is to see ourselves as onlookers. ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ is just one of the hymns that depicts us watching and contemplating the crucified Christ.
And that is well and good. Had we been there in the crowd that day, onlookers is exactly what we would have been — spectators to a public execution.
But sometimes what we might call our ‘cultural theology’— the beliefs we absorb through the things we do as part of our church culture — isn’t always as helpful as it might be.
We see this in a lot of our hymns about heaven, which often forget the biblical perspective, and the true Christian hope, of Christ who is going to come again.
But we see it also in this attitude of detachment — of Christ who is ‘over there’ whilst we are ‘over here’. And this can create problems.
There are theoretical problems about our understanding of salvation. How are our sins forgiven if somebody else died for them? If he is righteous and we are not, what connection is there between his righteousness and ours — or does God just, as it were, pretend we are righteous?
And there are practical problems about our understanding of ourselves. What may be true of Christ is all well and good. He is perfect, he is righteous, he is without sin, he is in heaven ... and so on. But I am a flawed, I am unrighteous, I am a sinner, I am earthly.
When the Prayer Book says we are ‘miserable’ offenders it uses a word that means ‘in need of mercy’. But sometimes miserable is exactly what we are in the modern sense. We know we are forgiven — we’ve learned that much. We even know we are loved by God — the Bible tells us so. But we don’t really think we are very much liked by God.
Of course God would like Jesus. That’s obvious. But Jesus is Jesus and I am me.
That is, until we look again at the language of Scripture, for whilst we are thinking about Christ on the cross, we read,
... we have been united with him ... in his death ... our old self was crucified with him... we died with Christ ...
Had you been there in the crowd on that day, you would have been a spectator, looking on him, standing apart from him.
But something incredible has happened. Paul reminds us of it here in Romans 6:1,
... don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
The incredible thing is that you have been baptized — baptized into Jesus. V 4:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
So often we get hung up about the when and how of baptism. Should we baptize infants or adults, new believers or people who have stuck it out for a while, by sprinkling or immersion, and so on?
What we forget is the ‘what’ of baptism — what being baptized means to the baptized person. Sometimes we are rightly nervous about attributing too much to baptism. But the result is that almost invariably we attribute too little to it.
Baptism is a sign of salvation, and we are quick to say is only a sign. But it is a real sign of a real thing.
My wedding ring is only a sign. But I am really married to a real person. Perhaps more appropriately, we might think of a handshake on a deal. It is only a handshake, but it tokens something irrevocable, something that commits you, something that expresses trust and faithfulness.
Until the handshake, you are still negotiating. After the handshake, there is no going back. But it is only a handshake.
Well baptism is only baptism. It isn’t magic and it requires two parties. In the Prayer Book Catechism, children are asked, “What is required of persons to be baptized?” And the right answer, which they are supposed to learn, is this
Repentance, whereby they forsake sin: and faith, whereby they stedfastly believe the promises of God, made to them in that Sacrament.
Notice, these are a requirement, not an option. Without repentance and faith you are not baptized in the biblical sense of the word.
But if you are baptized you are not just ‘baptized’ — you are not just someone who has received a little token, like a Christening Bible, or something like that.
You are baptized. You have taken hold of the promises of God, his outstretched hand which you have shaken on the deal. And you are now joined — as joined as it is possible to be — to the body of Christ.
As he died, you died. As he was raised, you have been raised spiritually and will be raised physically. What was true for him is true for you. You are no longer a spectator, you are a participant.
As you survey the wondrous cross with the eyes of faith, you see not just him. You see you.
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:

No comments:

Post a comment