Immersed in Christ
The First Promise: A New Identity (Part 2)
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Editor's note: Father Knight had many talents. Unfortunately, computer file management was not one of those talents. Thus, I have so far been unable to locate Fr. Knight's reflections on the daily readings from today until Feb 22 (Ash Wednesday). Consequently, starting today, I will post selections from The Five Promises of Baptism on weekdays. (Full copies of the booklet are available here.) On Sundays, I will post reflections on the Mass readings -- if I can find those files! Pray for me! ~~ Lynne Marie
BAPTISM IS DYING AND RISING
Catholics believe in Baptism by immersion, even though for purposes of practicality we often sacrifice this rich symbolism for the less expressive practice of pouring. Because of this mitigated but customary gesture, we think of Baptism as "washing away sins." That is to understate Christianity from the outset.
You cant really "wash away" sins, even though this is a time-honored description of Baptism straight out of Scripture. Sins are not washable; they are a part of our history. We cannot "wash away" something that has become part of our being.
Besides that, Baptism is not primarily about sin, any more than Jesus is primarily about forgiveness. Jesus came that we might "have life, and have it to the full." Baptism is about new life. Baptism is the end of one life and the beginning of another.
We go down into the waters of Baptism to die. We express, and we accept, that by going down into the water of Baptism as into the grave, we are giving up the life we enjoy here and now in order to emerge from those waters reborn into a new life received under an entirely new set of terms.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self...and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal. Christ is all and in all!
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.4
We "die in Christ" in order to "rise with Christ:' At Baptism, we (with all of our sins, past and future) are incorporated into the body of Jesus hanging on the cross-hanging there in the present, in the eternal "now" of God's time, although in our time frame it happened two thousand years ago. We are immersed in Christ as we are immersed in the water. When Christ dies, we die in him. We are buried with him, and our sins are annihilated. When Jesus rises, we rise with him and in him to live now, no longer as the selves we were, but as the risen body of Christ. We are a "new creation."
BAPTISM "TAKES AWAY" SIN
The mystery of our redemption is not that God simply "forgives" us. Forgiveness does not take away guilt. If forgiveness brings about any change, the change is in the one who forgives-who becomes more loving by that act. The one who is forgiven remains the same. Forgiveness does not take away guilt; it just chooses to overlook it. That is why people who have killed or done serious damage to others do not always find peace, even after receiving forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. They say, "I am still the one who did what I did. I am glad God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself' Their error lies in not understanding that Jesus does not just forgive. He is the "Lamb of God" who in his death "takes away" our sin. It ceases to be part of our history. We no longer have any sins in our past. The one who committed those sins died, and we are a "new creation:' This is a mystery we need to understand and appreciate.
In Baptism our "old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed." When Christ died, we died in him. When Christ rose, we rose with him and in him. We rose out of the waters of Baptism with our sins not just forgiven, but "taken away." All our sins and guilt-any action of our lives that was incorporated into the body that "became sin" on the cross-is taken out of our history, out of our past, in the only way that any action of our past can be taken away: by the ending of our history in death. More precisely, by the obliteration of our sinful history in the death of the "Lamb of God."
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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.6
We are "saved" because at Baptism we gave our bodies to Jesus, with all of our sins. Our bodies became his; our sins became his.
When he died, we died in him. And so, when he sees us holding on to our guilt, he says to us, and he has the right to say,
If you gave me your sins at Baptism, they are mine. Let go of them. I was "made sin" for you, and through my death and rising I was "made perfect" so that in me you might "be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect." As my own risen body on earth you have been made holy with the very "righteousness of God:' If you keep clinging to your guilt you are robbing me of what I died to deliver you from.7
Through the mystery of our identification with Christ in his dying and rising, through incorporation into the death of him who "became sin" for us, we have "become Christ:' We have become the very "righteousness of God."
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.8
If we gave our bodies, with all of our sins, to Christ to die in him, we also gave our bodies to rise with him. This means we gave ourselves in Baptism to be Christ's own living, risen body on earth. St. Paul wrote, speaking of Baptism:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God Do not be
conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.9
We "presented our bodies as a living sacrifice." This means that wherever our live bodies are, we are "sacrificed" to letting Jesus Christ live and act in us as he desires for the redemption of the world. Our bodies belong to him. They have become his body. In him we have become Christ. And in us he has become what we are: male or female, Jew or Greek, black or white, young or old, healthy or sick, genius or challenged, professional or laborer, even to the extent of making his own the physical and emotional woundedness that is in us because of our sin or the sins of others. Whatever we are, Jesus Christ says of us, "This is my body." And we answer, "Your flesh, given for the life of the world."
The first promise of Baptism is that we will "be like God:' By the act and fact of our dying and rising "in Christ" our sins are taken away, so that we, "being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness" as Christ's risen body on earth.
We have a new identity. We have "become Christ."10
4 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:10; Galatians 3:27-28.
5 John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
6 Romans 6:37.
7 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 5:9; Matthew 5:4
8; 2 Corinthians 5:21.8 2 Corinthians 5:21.
9 Romans 12:1-2.
10 Luke 1:74-75.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry