Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we 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, so we too might walk in newness of life.
If any of us has watched any television at any point this week, we have been overwhelmed with all the special programming marking the one year anniversary since the first Coronavirus case was reported in this country. During this time, we have become all too familiar with the devastating statistics of the number of dead and the even greater number of those affected with the illness.
The visual media have, for the most part, done a wonderful job of putting human faces on those statistics. They are not just numbers. They are people. People with families who have endured loss, and continue to grieve. They grieve because, in most cases, the dead were not given a proper burial, even if the death was not COVID-19 related.
I preached three funerals this past year, (only one COVID related), and it was disheartening to think of how many more people would have been present had there not been a pandemic.
One newscaster asked the question last night, “Where were you one year ago?”
It’s similar to a typical question asked when recalling a tragic event such as 9/11, or the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy, in the 60’s. They are moments etched in our memory, frozen in time.
I’m a hoarder, so I went back and reviewed a lot of what I wrote last year around this time – sermons, pastoral letters, personal correspondence – to see what I said then that could apply one year later.
I’ve already addressed this somewhat in my Tuesday Lenten reflection, in which I talked about hope.
But since Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talks explicitly about death, it’s worth revisiting the topic of the virus.
I am often reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer writes, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Whenever I use that line I also joke, “Try putting that saying in your outdoor sign and see how many visitors show up next Sunday.”
But I am also a firm believer that no matter what is happening in our life, Christ has an intimate knowledge of every detail. It may be that we are suffering in silence, or that our friends and family do not appreciate the depth of our anguish and pain. However, in the end God in Christ knows everything. God knows in detail everything and everybody who give us some reason to be afraid.
The apostle Paul makes that point in his letter to the Romans. And Paul also makes it very clear that death will not have the last word.
When we were baptized, we received the gift of eternal life, and our lives were renewed, and continuous daily renewal was begun. Our whole life was touched with the power of God through water and God’s Word, and something new and different began.
Jesus’ death and resurrection lifted the worry and fear from us, and clearly show us the beauty and the glory of God’s love and forgiveness and tender care. We are led to see that our lives have ultimate worth in Jesus Christ. We are assured that God cares intensely about each of us.
We are further assured that God wants each of us to live faithfully, and in confidence, because the cross is our ultimate assurance that God has overcome the world.
During his darkest moments, Martin Luther clung to these three little words: “I am baptized.” The strength of his faith was found in his baptism – when God put his claim on him.
So, too, we can say with Luther when tempted to doubt or fear, “I am baptized.”
So, too, we have the assurance through baptism of being children of God – even when situations come about that shake us to our very core; when we find ourselves dealing with events that are beyond our control, when we find ourselves fearful. We are promised that Christ will be with us in all circumstances, near to us, dear to us, at our side.
Our baptism never wears out, never expires, never fades. We never need to be rebaptized even if we leave the church for a long time. God never forgets who we are and whose we are, even when we do. The Spirit continues to work on us and in us in every moment, changing us daily into the people we are called to be, “so we too might walk in newness of life.”
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