Dead AND Alive!
Text: Romans 6:1-11
Baptism of Our Lord, A
Sometime in January 897 AD in the Church of St. John Lateran, Pope Stephen VII ordered the nine-month-old cadaver of his predecessor Pope Formosus disinterred, redressed in papal vestments, and propped up in the papal throne. He then proceeded place the corpse of the dead pope on trial so that he could annul Formosus’ pontificate and to declare his acts (including the holy orders he had conferred) void. It was a both a crass, and galling political move to appease the rich and powerful of the time. Stephen concluded the trial by ordering that the corpse be dragged through the streets and dumped into the Tiber River. In a few months an insurrection removed Stephen from office. Deprived of papal insignia, he was himself imprisoned and strangled. It would be completely ridiculous if it wasn’t so very sad. It is certainly not a proud moment in Christian history.
Yet this weird tale from history is no less ridiculous than the countless Christians living today as if their baptisms mean very little and have changed even less. We live in a Culture saturated by people who are simply living to die. All of life comes back to death, whether it is praising abortion at the Golden Globes as a way of advancing one’s acting career, or the unmitigated push for euthanasia, and assisted dying for anyone and everyone – sometimes even if they do not want it or cannot ask for it! But even if you aren’t on board for those there is no lack of death to guide your life. Too many people now live in mortal fear of climate change, world war 3, the wrong people or party getting into power, plastic straws, bathrooms, border walls, why just about everything now is some form of existential threat waiting to kill millions. So you better live in fear. And many Christians do. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so sad. We are not living to die. We are baptized and that means we have died so we can live!
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Some mock Christianity by painting it as a religion that provides an open invitation to immorality. If we are forgiven of everything then we can be hellions! Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we will ask forgiveness and be able to do it all over again. But it is not a matter of simply being free from the fear of repercussions. It is a matter of love! United with Christ’s death in Baptism means we are now separated from sin. Dead to sin. Just as a corpse is usually cut off from ongoing events among the living.
Into Christ/in Christ is a beautiful summary of the Christian life. Surrounded by Jesus’ forgiveness, always enjoying Christ’s fellowship, guidance, and protection. A union so close that a complete identity with Jesus and us has been formed – in baptism. Ours became His and His became ours … sin, righteousness, life and death! The old lonely (dying) life is gone … replaced by a new life … His life! Impossible by definition in His life is a desire to live as life of sin. Baptism is therefore a funeral service for the old sinful self. But baptism is also a resurrection miracle.
5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. You can’t retrain the old sinner. He/she must die. And so they have been. Jesus died a criminal’s death, so does the sinful human nature, the criminal within each of us. It is the only thing God can do with them. Baptism puts to death the desires of the flesh, so now death has no claim on the baptized. We fully participate in every part of Christ’s life. Therefore as Christ arose so must we arise to a new life of faith hereon earth and its fulfillment in heaven.
Death frees one from the obligations and laws of this life. It is patently ridiculous to sentence a corpse for committing a crime, even if you are a pope. It is folly to hire workers from the residents of a local cemetery. It is foolish to try and collect a debt from one who is dead. In the same way a believer who has died to sin through baptism into Christ’s death (now our own through baptism) has satisfied all the many debts which we slaves ever could have owed to sin.
8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We are now certain of the new life granted by baptism … a life of holiness and righteousness we share with Christ. Christ swallowed up death in victory and cannot die again. His human nature is now both glorified and immortal. Death had its way once, on Good Friday, it will not have mastery over Him ever again. Nor in Him can it have mastery over us.
Jesus lives now. Jesus lives for God. He lives in glory directing all toward the Father and ruling all things at the right hand of God. In the same way that Jesus is dead to sin but alive to God, so are we who now in baptism have all things in common with Jesus. Our faces are turned toward God, not sin. We strive in all things to please God, not the sinful desires of the flesh. We want with our whole heart that this life of ours would please God who has given us everything in Christ.
And all of this is only possible because in Baptism we are now in Christ. It all comes from Jesus. It all goes back to Jesus. In Baptism we have died to sin, we are free of its pull, its fears and its power. We are alive in Christ. Let us truly act like those who are Dead and Alive!