New Life in Christ
“We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4)
It is hard to believe that barely a month ago heavy snow was still on the ground throughout the region. Only a few weeks later, we made our switch to daylight savings time and now, after two days of drenching rain, forecasters are predicting sun and nearly 80 degrees for the Easter weekend.
Rather suddenly, in our part of the world at least, the cold and dark of winter has given way to warmth and brighter spring days. As we look around us, we see trees and flowers beginning to bloom. Lawns are turning green. Even before the first glimmer of morning light appears, birds awake again in a cacophony of song to welcome the new day.
God provides this annual cycle, I think, not just because He knows we grow weary of winter, but as a reminder about a greater truth. That is, the rhythm of death and new life found in nature also is implanted in us. It also is at the heart of the paschal mystery of Christ’s redemptive work.
Our concern this week, then, really isn’t about the onset of spring. In fact, when an Iowa town announced recently that it would remove Good Friday from its municipal calendar and replace it with “Spring Holiday,” this not only offended many people for good reason, but revealed the tendency in our present day to ignore God and avoid suffering at any cost. The misguided thinking is that if Good Friday reminds us of the reality of suffering and God’s work in our world, let’s just wipe it off the calendar and jump quickly to banal pleasantries. Yet, the constitutive elements of our redemption-suffering, dying and rising-are never isolated from each other. The glory of Jesus’ resurrection, as we well know, came only after profound suffering and an ignominious death.
This reality also is found over and over again in our own lived experience. No one, of course, is exempt from suffering and the hurt of deep loss. Loved ones are taken from us unexpectedly. Illness forever alters our plans. Job loss threatens our livelihood. A marriage bond is ruptured by infidelity, abuse or addiction. Friends or co-workers hurt or disappoint us. Leaders succumb to human weakness and betray our trust. Our children embark on paths that we feel will hurt them or be detrimental to their future. We suffer the disappointments of goals unmet, expectations thwarted, and difficulties we never anticipated or imagined. We may be immobilized by fears or captive to our insecurities. We may slip into sinful ways of living that we thought we had long overcome.
Yet, even when we experience these things, we are not at an end. Nor are we alone. We do not despair or lose hope because Jesus-who Himself felt abandonment, disappointment, betrayal and loss-always is with us in our suffering and carries our sins and burdens to the Cross. We, through God’s grace, begin again and walk anew with Christ, confident that we who suffer and die with Him also will rise with Him. As such, the events that we celebrate this week are not something that we observe from the outside, as though we are spectators. Rather, we partake in Jesus’ suffering, dying and rising, we enter into the Easter Mystery, and experience new life in Christ, in the present and in the life to come.
We are given access to this new life through our Baptism. Through Baptism, sin is washed away and we are given access to the life of the Trinity, even though we have done nothing to earn or merit this! At Baptism, which comes from the Greek word for “plunge,” submersion into the water signifies our being buried with Jesus, dying to sin, and leaving our old way of life behind. Emergence out of the water symbolizes our being raised to new life with Him. This reality is celebrated at the Easter Vigil itself, as the Easter candle is lowered into the water then lifted out, reminding us that we have risen with Jesus into the newness of life.
Even though we have been given access to new life in Christ, the truth is that we still experience challenges and failures. As we grow in faith and conform ourselves more closely to Jesus, we will become even more aware of our need of His grace, mercy and forgiveness. As Thomas Merton once observed, “We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” Even if we fall, however, we are strengthened, nourished and renewed on this lifelong journey through the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
We also are supported by the believing community, since by Baptism we become not only God’s sons and daughters but also sisters and brothers to one another. We are made members of the Body of Christ, the Church, a community of believers, one family of faith. This bond of unity collapses the boundaries of our towns and neighborhoods, social class, party affiliation, and allows us to love our neighbor and to pursue the common good. Given our common baptism and the dignity it confers, we treat one another civilly and with charity, even when we disagree.
As we share in the central mysteries of our faith this year, then, let us reach out with love to serve one another, cognizant of our baptismal bond and the new life we have in Jesus. In a special way, let us pray for those among us who will receive the sacraments of initiation this year at the Easter Vigil. May we share in their immense joy at this transforming, grace-filled moment in their lives.
May we also warmly invite and welcome back all those who have been away from the Church to be with us in our parish communities of faith. We earnestly and prayerfully welcome you home, not as guests or visitors to our parishes, but as family, to celebrate the triumph of life over death and to experience anew the redeeming and merciful love of Jesus.
May God continue to guide you and bless you.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, D.D., J.C.D.
Bishop of Camden