Dying to sin, rising to newness of life

Easter Vigil – 2010

Matthew

Marian Free

In the name of God who in Jesus brings us from death to life, from darkness into light. Amen.

That baptism has always been associated with the great events of Easter is made evident in Paul’s letter to the Romans. “3Do 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.” The prayers in our baptism service ask that the one baptized: “may be so buried with Christ in baptism that the new nature may be raised up in them. May the fruit of your Spirit grow and flourish in them” and we bless the water with the words: “sanctify this water so that those who are to be baptized in it may be made one with Christ in his death and resurrection.”

In baptism we enter a new form of existence. It represents a movement from the material world into the spiritual realm, a movement away from sin (separation from God), to union with God. In baptism we die to the law and invite the Holy Spirit to direct and regulate all that we do – at least in theory.

In actual fact, I wonder how many of us have moved into the spiritual realm. How many of us have truly died to this world so that we may begin the process of living in the next? How many of us are so confident in the Holy Spirit that we are able to rely entirely on her to determine our behaviour and our decisions? It is easy enough, I think, to believe that because of our baptism we are assured of the resurrection to eternal life. It is less easy to believe that we are set free to live that life now. It is relatively easy to accept the resurrection as an historic event, but much harder to accept that the resurrection opens for us a new reality, a new way of living.

As Paul makes clear, the resurrection is so much more than an historical event. Through our baptism we share not only in Christ’s death, but in his resurrection. Dying and rising are an integral part of our Christian journey. In his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated the law, sin and death. In our baptism we are called to participate in that victory – to live in such a way that law, sin and death have no hold on us, to give ourselves wholly to God so that our lives may be transformed and that we might live life to the full.

Dying to sin means dying to those aspects of human nature which lead us to focus on ourselves and our own needs rather than relying on God to meet our every need. Instead of placing our trust in God, we place our trust in power and material possessions, and we compete with others to demonstrate our prowess. Instead of seeking the values of the kingdom, we are seduced by the values of the world.

Dying to the law means dying to the sort of independence which assumes that we are capable of knowing how God wants us to behave. Instead of relying on the Spirit, we establish our own codes of behaviour, these in turn, take the place of reliance on the Holy Spirit and instead of bringing us closer to God, take us further away.

Dying to death means dying to those things which prevent us from being truly alive. Instead of living life to the full, we can get stuck in grief, frustration and anger. Instead of rejoicing in the life which God has given us we can find ourselves allowing our circumstances to determine our attitude to life. Being bound by negativity, sorrow or disappointment prevents our growing into the newness of life received through our baptism.

The difficulty that we have lies in distinguishing the spiritual from the material. Ironically, it is often our attempts to be “good” which are more likely to draw us away from the spiritual world than our being “bad”. When we are bad, we usually know that we are bad. It is much harder to discern when our being “good” is actually driving us away from God. A focus on being “good” can become a form of self-absorption – it can lead to a complacency about our relationship with God. For example, we can become so concerned with our prayer life that we are no longer listening to God, so intent on doing good, that we have no time for a relationship with God, so resigned about “carrying our cross” that we forget that the cross is meant to lead to resurrection. We may be blind to the fact that our spiritual exercises become and end in themselves rather than opening a way to God. We may fail to recognise that the ways in which we regulate our lives might in fact be a way of our taking control rather than relying on God. We may not realize that we have become so absorbed in our troubles that instead of we are in the grip of a certain kind of death.

Walking in newness of life is the promise of our baptism, the promise of the resurrection. We are called out of darkness into light, from the realm of this world into the spiritual dimension that is God’s world. Christ has set us free – to claim that freedom we need to live to God, to consciously and conscientiously determine to live in the spiritual world, to die to all that binds us to the present and focusing solely on God allow our lives to be determined by the Spirit.

In that perfect freedom, we will discover that we are truly alive and we will know for ourselves the power of the resurrection.

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