March 30, 2013 –– EASTER VIGIL
Romans 6:3–11 / Luke 24:1–12
The Living Dead
On this Easter Vigil night we come out of the darkness of death into the wonderful light of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. There is Good News: Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. This is the Gospel. This is our Christian Faith, and this night has for centuries been a time for new baptisms and confirming our baptism.
What is this Christian Faith to which we are called? What does it mean for the way we live each day to say I am a Christian..... I am a practicing Catholic.... I am alive in Christ....?
In Romans 6 the question is: If God has chosen to forgive by putting all sin on his Son, then why do we need to be concerned about sin? Why not sin all the more so God’s grace will be further magnified? Some think this is a convenient arrangement: People want to sin and God wants to forgive sin, and that sums it up. Paul has a vehement response to this idea. The literal response is May it not be!, but there is an implied tone so that the old KJV says God forbid! The meaning is clear: being casual about sin is not an appropriate response to Christ’s death for our sins.
A story is told of a teacher who wanted to explain to the 6-year-olds in her class what someone had to do in order to go to heaven. In an attempt to discover what kids already believed about the subject, she asked a few questions:
― "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the church," he asked, "would that get me to heaven?" "No!" the children answered. The teacher was encouraged.
― "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me to heaven?" Again the answer was, "No!"
― "Well then," she said, "If I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved everybody, would that get me into heaven?" Again they all shouted, "No!"
― "Well then," the teacher asked, looking at her class with great encouragement, "how can I get to heaven?" A boy in the back row stood up and shouted, "You gotta be dead!"
The little fellow spoke better than he knew. He meant, of course, that someone had to die physically before going to heaven. What we find in Romans 6 is that we have to be “dead” to have a claim to God’s salvation. Thus, we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.... (v3,4a).
Baptism affects a person’s identity. It marks a change of identification from Adam to Christ, from death to life, from condemnation to righteousness. In baptism a sinner is immersed into the death of Jesus. When a person goes into the water it is a picture of going all the way into the grave ― buried with the One who died for us. This is how we are forgiven (and how everything else inherent in our salvation comes to us): For a dead person has been absolved from sin (v7).
The point here is identity. The basis is what God has done through his Son. Everything about our salvation starts with God. It is crucial to see that God has a definitive purpose in this: 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 (v6). God wants a people who are not identified by their sin. And when we remember how helpless we are in our sins, we know that the only way for that to happen is for God to do it.
He has done it! He has done, on the one hand, something one-sided and supernatural. His Son came into our world, born of the Virgin Mary. He died for ours sins and then came back from the dead both to prove that his death was something special and to show that God’s life is bigger than sin and death: We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him (v9).
This is how the death of Christ, his resurrection and our baptism come together. So, what are we to do (because of what God has done in and through his Son)? you.... must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus (v11).
But if our identity is Christ ― if we embrace his death for our sins, and if his kind of life is our pattern and goal ― then what will we seek to do? The text continues: do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin... but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life (v12,13). Our hands, our feet, our tongues, our ears, our eyes.... our houses, our “free time,” our money.... our minds.... they all belong to God because a Christian is someone who died with Christ. Christians are to live in this world each day remembering they are the living dead –– dead to sin and alive in Christ.
One day a man saw another walking toward him on a city sidewalk with a big signboard over his shoulders that read, I am a slave of Christ. Curious, the first man turned to take a second look as the walking billboard passed and began to move away. On the back of the signboard was a question: Whose slave are you? You see, we have a choice of masters, but we do not have the choice not to be a slave. We all belong to someone or some thing. St Augustine once wrote, “a wicked man serves not just one master, but, what’s worse, as many masters as he has vices.” St Paul says our master determines our identity.
Christ has done everything to set us free from sin and death –– he submitted to an awful death and then rose from the dead, but how many people choose to live in slavery rather than newness of life? It can seem that Christians are ignorant or deranged to live in this world as the living dead, but identifying with the death of Jesus Christ is the only way to have his resurrection life.
Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. He calls us into his resurrection life. That means taking our baptism seriously, knowing that first of all we are crucified with Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus turns this world upside down, and we are witnesses to that when we know that Christians are the living dead.