Toorak Uniting Church

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Buried in Christ

John 20: 19 – 31     Romans 6: 1 – 5
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
3 April 2005

When, many years ago, the parents of the now deceased Queen Juliana of the Netherlands approached the font, the minister leading the service said:
"Now we are going to bury little Juliana".
It made headlines in the Dutch papers at the time and there was quite a bit of theological debate around the Churches for weeks after the event. Wasn’t it going a bit too far to refer to a funeral at such a joyful occasion with a not yet 3 week old royal baby at the centre of it? Wasn’t death the last thing people wanted to talk about when gathered round the baptismal font, celebrating, and welcoming a new life into the community of the Church? Shouldn’t death be the thing furthest from anybodies mind?

Well no, if we read the apostle Paul’s words death and baptism have everything to do with each other, they are even, in a sense, synonymous according to him when he says: "Do you no know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? That we therefore have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life?"

"Baptized into death, buried with Christ", are no words to bring up casually or carelessly in the setting of the baptism of … month old baby. But they are important words, words that have something to say about what is happening here this morning that is certainly worth hearing, and essential to our understanding of what baptism is.

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" writes Paul.

The word into indicating a movement: Into Christ, Into death. And those two things are put next to each other as equal entities: into Christ is into death.

Paul sees baptism as a movement. A movement from one state of being into another. From not being in Christ into being in Christ. I think we can all understand part of it: We bring our children to baptism because we want to move them into the life of Christ as it is lived out in and through the life of his followers. We indicate that we want to make our children part of the Jesus movement and all it stands for. Its values, its hopes, its future.

And most of us, I assume, will have a pretty rosy picture of what that may entail: It’s about becoming part of a community, about care and protection, about sharing values, fellowship, and history. Ben is now part of us and we will all be part of Ben because he’ll have a certificate and a candle that will testify that he is part of the Toorak Uniting Church community and through that community part of the world wide Christian Church and through the whole world wide Christian Church part of that group of people that have over the centuries sought and still seek to follow Christ in their lives and live out justice, peace and love in the same way as he did.

All true. That is exactly what it is. But it is only part of the picture. Because the movement into Christ is not only a movement into community and communion with what Christ stood for and what is lived out today in what is his body, the Church, it is also a movement into death.

The water we use not only a symbol of life and growth, of how God will feed and nurture Ben and any of us from seedlings into mature and healthy plants and keep us healthy as long as we drink from the source of living water he is giving us. Water is also symbol of death, of water as flood, of the unpredictable incalculable aspects of life, a symbol of everything a person can possibly drown in. Of anything that threatens us as the fragile, vulnerable people we are. The water symbolizes death not only in the physical sense, but in the sense of losing the connection with God and self, ending up in a place where life is dark and everything seems to have lost its meaning. It stands for any place that feels like hell and is difficult to get out of on our own.
Things that can wash over us like waves, and baptism a sort of pre-preparing for when that happens.

Of course this is made much more visible in the way the orthodox baptize their babies. They dunk them completely under three times, to call out the name of God every time they come spluttering to the surface. Showing in a much more visible manner what Paul wrote: "buried by baptism into death, raised from the dead in Christ".

Christ suffered on the cross and died. The waves of the world washed over him in no small way. He was killed, not because he’d done anything wrong, but because he’d done everything right. Things looked quite hopeless for a while after that. Friday and Saturday his disciples sat around sad and defeated and on Sunday morning a couple of women went to his grave expecting nothing but the stench of death and a corpse that needed urgent attention.

What they somehow found however was life, what they somehow came to realise was that what Jesus stood for had not finished in death, but had been given a new lease on life by God. That not all was lost, on the contrary, that this was better than before because they now knew that God’s love would extend even beyond death and bring back from the grave what was important to him if need be.

It’s this we play out in baptism. We can only understand what life in Christ means if we understand that this life is a life that has been won through death. That it is life that has proven to be stronger than death. That what it stands for is so important to God that he brought it back from beyond the grave. A boundary we all thought was pretty fixed and rather impossible to overcome.
"Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life."

What that means for Ben and for anybody that has been baptized is that, in a way, in Christ, we all have gone through death already and come out the other end. It means that we may believe that nothing in life can ever get so bad that God can’t haul us to the surface, perhaps spluttering and gasping for breath, but still, bring us back to life, light, love and comfort. As he did with Christ.

That is something that might be hard to grasp. The gospel stories tell us that that has never been different. The Bible tells us that the disciples, those who were there on the third day and in the weeks that followed Easter found it really difficult to believe. Thomas not the only one that doubted. Thomas not the only one that needed some convincing.

Even straight after the resurrection did faith not come easily but in fits and starts, with a lot of questions, doubts and uncertainties. There is a process, a gradual gaining of insight and belief before the disciples can go on their way to tell others and be convincing about it. 50 Days to be precise, until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes to give them a hand.

Baptized into Christ is being baptized into his death. Through Christ we know that death does not have the last word. Because he meets us in life, walks beside us, brings us to the surface when we threaten to drown, and carries us through the dead parts of our lives to new life, we know he is not dead. That is an experience most of us gain through years and years of living the faith and practicing being part of Christ. It’s not something that comes easily or cheaply and it needs a lot of reinforcement before it really sinks in and we are able to trust that God’s love reaches beyond all death and holds us even in the most challenging moments of our lives.

Through the depths God raised Christ to a life that was more and stronger than it had been before. Through the depths with Gods help we may gain life that is more and stronger than before. Christ life.
But not only that: At Easter the whole world changed. Despair will never be quite so deep again, grief never be quite so hopeless again, because in Christ’s death there proved to be resurrection and life, because whatever, however he did not become one of the many millions of senseless meaningless deaths that have happened across the ages. His life became a source of inspiration, his example a light for many to follow, his love a comfort for millions that came after.
It is through death that new life came, in Christ. And it is only if we take that death seriously, that we can understand the significance of the life gained through it. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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