Mommy, did you know there are three kinds of dying? (Where is this conversation going, I wondered?)
One is the kind where you’re really dead, but we’re not going to talk about that one right now. (Whew! OK, what’s next?)
One is the kind where you paint your hair. (Yes… that one’s important, especially for Mommy’s gray hairs… So, what’s the third one?)
The other is when you’re a baby and you get water sprinkled on your head. (Hmm… well, actually, yes, getting baptized IS a form of dying.)
Sometimes my kids really surprise me. I mean, how did my six year old daughter just utter such a truth?
Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ Jesus when we were baptized? In our baptism we shared in his death. So when we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and took part in his death. And just as Christ was raised from death by the wonderful power of the Father, so we can now live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4 ERV)
Dying to Sin and Living as People of the Resurrection
As I’ve reflected on this idea that we die to sin as part of our baptism and are rebirthed to life in Christ, I was reminded of an illustration I heard in a sermon recently. Below is an excerpt from the June 29, 2014 sermon preached by the Rev. Shannon Kershner at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago:
The Episcopal priest and author John Westerhoff, in his book Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith, writes about a jarring baptism he witnessed in a small church in a Latin American village.
The congregation had gathered; they had recalled God’s gracious acts, just as Paul did in chapter 5. And now it was time for them to respond to God’s Living Word with a baptism.
But where we might play “Jesus Loves Me” or “Baptized in Water,” at this small church the congregation began the baptism with the mournful sounds of a funeral hymn.
“Every baptism becomes becomes an Easter moment.”
Westerhoff watched a solemn procession move down the center aisle. A father carried a child’s coffin he had made from wood; a mother carried a bucket of water from the family well; and a priest carried their sleeping infant wrapped only in a native blanket.
As they all reached the chancel, the father placed the coffin on the altar, the mother poured the water in the coffin, and the priest covered the wakening baby’s skin with the embalming oil. The congregational singing softened to a whisper.
The priest slowly lowered the infant into the coffin and immersed the child’s head in the water. And as he did so, he exclaimed, “I kill you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
“Amen,” everyone shouted. Then, quickly lifting the child into the air for all to see, the priest then declared, “And I resurrect you that you might love and serve the Lord.”
And with those words of rebirth and resurrection, the congregation immediately broke into a joyous Easter hymn (quoted in an article by William Fogleman in “Romans 6:3–14: Between Text and Sermon,” Interpretation, 1993, p. 295).
“Maybe their constant rehearsing of letting go into God, of trusting that in their baptism they have already died, keeps their focus on living as on body in Christ Jesus?”
I would love to know how their liturgy of regularly remembering their death to sin and their rebirth in grace has affected their life together and the way they live their faith in the world. Maybe the reality that every baptism becomes an Easter moment keeps them grounded in what it means to be fully alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Maybe their constant rehearsing of letting go into God, of trusting that in their baptism they have already died—maybe that constant reminder renders the occasional church fight mundane and any grumblings pale in comparison. Perhaps it helps them keep their focus on living as one body in Christ Jesus and not on thinking they had to agree or even like each other all the time. Perhaps.
Click here for the full text of this sermon (audio is also available). Rev. Kershner is one of my favorite preachers to listen to (so maybe I’m a bit biased as I grew up with her and her father was my pastor).