Monday, November 23, 2009

To Be Born Again

"Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

Saint Cyril declares that baptism “was at once your grace and your mother.”  The baptismal font is your tomb and womb.  For Saint Cyril of Jerusalem his catechumens have become sons and daughters of one Mother, which is the church.  Regarding this baptism he writes in his protocatechesis, “It is the ransom for captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; holy indissoluble seal; the chariot to heave; the luxury of Paradise; the gift of adoption.”  In the font – In the waters of Holy Baptism is the participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  This is not a figurative participation – it is not metaphoric of an alternative event – rather it is the true cataclysmic, cosmic reality of the blessed exchange with the Lamb of God – the Christ – Jesus.  Jesus overcame the enemy, by becoming a servant unto death – washing, healing, teaching, and dying.  And what a blessed death, which became the very slaying of death itself.  Death was swallowed whole – death was consumed buried in the body of Christ.  Death buried, and banished by a God-man.  And what a blessed death it is for it is your own.  Saint Paul writes: 

Know ye not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death?  Therefore we are buried together with Him by baptism into death: that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also may walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Rom. 6:3-5). 

Where is this death?  Where is this newness of life?  Is it in the meditations of nature?  Lofty thoughts about a God of power and might?  Is it in our strivings to be better, more virtuous people, more productive and well known members in our communities?  Does it come from the barrage of self-help books that promise you a more successful career, improved happiness, and higher esteem?  Dear Christians, there is no life here – only crafty deceptions.  There are no restored souls from lofty thoughts, increased happiness, or self help books.  Death, salvation, and life come through the baptismal font.  A cold block of cement or thousands of shabby wooden rotting fonts in rural parishes across the world deliver thousands of saints every year.  They approach the altar or are carried there as infants for a blessed burial, a blessed death, and a most glorious resurrection to walk forever in the newness of life – the very body of Christ.

You descend into water as broken vessels, and are made dead.  This font becomes your tomb, your shroud of death.  You are dipped three times, for a three day burial in the bosom of the earth - which you share with Jesus your Christ.  Your former man was laid in a coffin, descended through the waters, and flooded to a certain death in the Red Sea – by blood of the Lord.  Pastors pronounce death with water and the invocation of the Divine Name.  This is a necessary and blessed death for the curse of sin is death.  Yet like Christ we are not left for dead but are resuscitated when the breath of life is breathed into our nostrils by the Holy Spirit.  Here, we sinners, with our diseased and broken bodies and souls are put to death and are resurrected.  Pastors, simple men of all types, vested with the authority of Christ perform these Holy Mysteries not with any power of their own but with the power of God who declares you holy sons and daughters.  In this font you are buried and dead.  Yet you are never left for dead but just as surely resurrected as Christ.  From the tomb of the font a perfect shroud of righteousness is wrapped around you.  God does not see your sin.  He does not see an ungrateful heart.  He does not see your failures as a father, a mother, a son, or daughter.  He does not see that bitter and dark secret that you have tried oh so hard to forget.  He does not see a desecrated body that has been defiled by the monstrous devils and tempters of this world.  He sees you as a holy saint.  He sees not a blemish on your body or an impure thought in your heart.  He sees not your life story with all your troubles and tears but sees your life story in His Son only.  He sees a righteous one.  He sees you – who sings his praises, and hallows His Holy Name.  He sees you wonderfully and perfectly made because He sees Christ in you and for you.                    

The Roman Missal for the consecration of the font refers to the Holy Spirit “who is to make fruitful with the mingling of His mystical power this water prepared for the rebirth of men, that a heavenly race conceived in holiness may come forth from the immaculate womb of the divine font.”  Understanding our spiritual life in light of our human birth is essential to any understanding of the Gospel.  In this font the Romanists and Saint Cyril suggest a very helpful symbol that we might better understand the totality of all that takes place in baptism.  As Saint John writes in his Gospel, “But as many as received Him, He gave them power, to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name.  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13).  Christ Jesus was both true God and true man.  Not just spirit but blood and flesh.  It is flesh that was tempted – flesh of a man – who like us was tempted by Satan – who hungered, thirsted, cried, and laughed.  Our human birth came from the waters of a mother who bored us in pain.  And in sin we are conceived - and in sin we enter into a fallen and shattered world.  As Nicodemus did learn, we cannot enter a second time into our Mother’s womb to be born again.  Our births from our dear Mother’s was a one time event.  And yet the birth from our mother’s womb was not the final declaration of all matters on life.  For God ultimately had plans for us – that we might be born again of water and the Holy Ghost.  God willed that we be born of the womb of Holy Mother Church.  A virginal and holy birth, born of God, born from above, born as redeemed saints.  Here you are adopted by a jealous and loving Father who wants you so dearly that His own son is sent to shed blood.  Rivers of water and blood flow forth from a pierced side, giving a new birth to us blind beggars.  In a most treasured hymn, God’s Own Child, I Glady Say it we sing:  Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

The simple baptismal font does not look like it contains the complete mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord.  Yet our Lord comes through means that give us great comfort.  In the font, with the eyes of faith, there is a tomb and a blessed womb.  There is death and burial.  There is resurrection and life.  There is water and blood.  There is the body of Christ who stands with you in the Holy waters of your baptism.  He gives all things to you.  And God the Father sees you as His most prized possession.  He delights in you at this simple font.  He sustains you and provides for you until the final day when you will inherit heaven to dine and sing with your Lord.  And in your baptism angels rejoice with all the company of heaven.  Amen. 

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