The Easter Sunday Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. When she told the apostles, Peter and the beloved disciple (John) felt a deep desire to see for themselves what had happened. They ran to the tomb and found the cloth in which Jesus had been buried, nicely folded away to indicate that his body has not been robbed. The beloved disciple believed that was a sign that Jesus is truly risen. The “Beloved” disciple’s journey with Jesus is marked by his deep love for his master and friend. It is this love that helped him to recognize that the body of Jesus had not been taken away, but had risen to a totally new life. Every disciple of Jesus is called to relate to him in a similar way. As long as Jesus remains jus an ideal for the disciples there will be the danger to follow him only in thought and theory. Only when Jesus becomes a loved one, will there be a desire to really act as he would have done. Discipleship of Jesus is more a matter of heart than the head; A matter of Faith, more than of thought.
When we daily remember our baptism, we are remembering a powerful act of God, which cannot be captured in a video recording. When we recall how God has transformed our lives through baptism, a sense of gratitude spontaneously wells up within us. Gratitude is one of the greatest virtues in shaping our new life with Christ. Martin Luther referred to gratitude as, the basic Christian attitude and the very heart of the gospel. There is a large body of research to indicate that grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed-out, and more satisfied with life.
What is your experience with an attitude of gratitude?
The blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid human nature considers them, it may doubt whether they could all be true. No greater jewel can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we obtain perfect holiness and salvation. Baptism is so full of comfort and grace that heaven and earth cannot contain it. -Martin Luther
Paul’s teaching in the sixth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome explains what happens when we are baptized. Through baptism we are filled with the supernatural, spiritual power, of both Christ’s death and his resurrection. In other words, with the power of Christ’s death within us, we have his own power over sin, death, and the devil (Luther). With Christ’s power of resurrection within us, we have his own power to be loving, forgiving, and trusting in eternal life. We don’t always feel, act, or look like someone with Christ’s own power. Nevertheless, Christ’s own Spirit is fully alive within us through our baptism. That is the greatest miracle of our salvation!
What may we expect from Christ’s own Spirit living within us?
Even though the act of baptism is a once-and-for-all paramount act of God, it takes a lifetime to move to greater completion. When we were baptized, a lifelong process of transformation was set into motion to move us away from our sinful identity, toward a new life with God. It is primarily through the daily remembering of our baptismal adoption that this transformation occurs within us. Daily remembering our baptism should permeate all of the activities that are accompanied with the sign of the cross.When we remember the baptismal covenant God has made with us, we allow Christ to freely live within us. Through Christ’s death and resurrection,God sets into motion a daily process to transform us so that we will become the children he intends us to be. This transformation is made possible because at the moment of our baptism Christ begins living within us, making our bodies his temple. Although Christ lives within us through Baptism, he never forces his presence upon us. And yet, when we acknowledge Christ, through a process of remembering our baptism, it is then that his life truly becomes our life. When Christ lives within us the two most important aspects of Christ’s life become a part of our daily lives: his death and his resurrection. By his death, Christ brings death to our self-centered, sinful ways of living. Through our baptism, we are given Christ’s own capacity to bring death to the most destructive and evil force within us: our own self-centeredness, our own rebellion against God. The power of Christ’s death that we receive in baptism is the power that breaks the sin we inherited from our first parents. Christ’s death, at work within us, brings death to our inner connection to sin, death, and the devil’s evil ways. Through the power of his resurrection, Christ brings a new way to live in our relationship with God and with others. Through our daily remembering, our sinful ways are drowned and our new life with Christ is raised up just as it was on the day of our baptism, and just as it will be at the end of all time. Through our baptism, we are given Christ’s own capacity to bring about a new way to live and relate to God and to one another. The power of Christ’s resurrection, which we received in baptism, is the power to bring about love and forgiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others.
How is Christ’s death and resurrection at work within you?
Would you know who is the greatest of the saints? It is not he who studies the Scriptures and prays the most; it is not he who tries to be loving and kind to all; it is not he who has even temperance; it is also not he who fights for justice and sacrifices his life for a cause; it is not he who is the most faithful in worship; it is not he who humbles himself through confession; but, it is he who is always grateful to God and who receives everything in life as an instance of God's goodness. William Law (1686-1761)
Among the four Gospel accounts, Mark's version of Jesus' death is the most grim. Jesus is a victim. Abandoned by his followers, denied by Peter, condemned by the religious and political authorities, he is mocked by everyone, even those executed with him. Utterly alone, his last words are a cry of abandonment even by God. True to form, the crowd misunderstands even these last words: "Listen, he is calling for Elijah" (15:35). On that note, Jesus dies. There is more to the story, of course. The signs at the moment of death signal other realities. Scattered sentences from the psalms direct the sensitive reader to the Scriptures which provide the backdrop for the story. The words and actions of Pilate and the soldiers are ironic: they say more than they know. Yet the tone cannot be sentimentalized. This is where Jesus' offer of life ends. This is what Pilate and the priests do. There is no other way. The message of Passion Sunday is Jesus' death on a cross. Jesus died because God sent him to die. Jesus died for our sake. Hearing that Jesus died for us to make us right with God, we realize that we do not have to try to have a relationship with God by our own efforts. We become nothing with Jesus in his death so that we can become everything to God through Jesus.
Baptism is not a one time event, but the beginning of a special lifelong relationship with God. No one would ever expect a newborn to physically remain a baby. Likewise, God does not expect the baptized to spiritually remain the same. Our baptism is not an isolated event, but a lifetime of renewals and rememberings that strengthen our relationship with God. God promises each of us, at the font, that he will be with us every day until we reach our heavenly home. God, therefore, expects that every day we would turn away from our relationship to our old nature in order to turn toward our new nature with Christ. Daily, the Holy Spirit within us is stirred up in order to renew our relationship with Christ. It is the daily work of the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to respond to God’s gift of Christ within our souls. Day after day, we can grow in recognizing God at work within our daily lives. As we daily remember our baptism we grow in our ability to recognize the Spirit at work with our lives. Some days, the Spirit’s work in our lives is obvious and meaningful; some days it is not. Nevertheless, the work of the Holy Spirit that began in our baptism remains a powerful presence in our lives. As the Spirit conforms our faith to Christ, we are able to participate in Christ’s mission of redemption to make all things new. In his Small Catechism, Luther describes what baptism means for daily living: It means that our old sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever. When we invite the Holy Spirit to drown our old nature of sin, with all its evil deeds and desires, we are saying, I can’t save myself, I need your help! We never get too old or too righteous to not depend upon the Spirit’s help to die to self and rise to a new life with Christ. Baptism is a once-and-for-all act of God, which takes one’s whole life to finish.