Baptism, Death and Life in Between – Based on John 3:5-8
In September of last year Margaret and I got talking after a Sunday Service as we usually do. We shared our insights of the parish, ministry and life in general. This conversation was particularly interesting since we were just starting to wrestle with the Canadian Government policy change on end of life care. Since mid-June 2016 when Bill C-14-passed “Medical Assistance in Dying” it is now legal in Canada to choose medical assistance in dying – under set circumstances. Regardless of whether you personally agree or disagree with this decision as a parish, we need to take time to reflect and understand this new reality. We may be personally faced with this decision at some point. We could have family members of friends considering this choice. We could end up with fellow parishioners who consider this as an option where we are called to pastorally respond to the situation.
We may not have chosen this decision yet we are all called to begin to sort out how to navigate new and uncharted waters of our collective lives of faith. For the next 5 weeks, we will be reflecting on some uncomfortable and needed topics. This series is based on Rev. Margaret Johnston-Jones’s, our fantastic Honorary Assistant’s work with the National Church. I am personally grateful for her work in this area … even if I get to do most of the homilies.
Thinking about my death
Don’t look for things that you are not ready to find. That sounds like good advice right? Don’t look for things that you are not ready to find. The trouble is we are often ready to find things, and we just don’t really want too. It’s kind of like Sunday evening when you are getting ready to go work. There is a part of you that honestly thinks, “If I don’t’ go to sleep then tomorrow will not come and I don’t have to face it!” But tomorrow does come, and you do have to face it.
When I first looked at the reading from John I almost wanted to drive over to Margaret’s house and say, “Seriously! How am I supposed to make all this work!” When it comes to facing our own mortality our natural inclination is not to start thinking about baptism, Nicodemus and being born again … yet it makes way to much sense.
In order to make sense of John’s gospel and being born again consider your birth certificate. If you were born in the Western World you likely have a birth certificate. This little document states where the birth place, date and when the certificate itself was issued. That is all it proves. It does not prove that I was born. Obviously, I was born, I am a human being and standing right in front of you. The document only records a few details of this event that has clearly already happened.
Some flavours of Christianity overlook this rather important distinction of document and actual birth. There are traditions that treat baptism as a huge tumultuous event, with a dramatic build-up, a painful moment of decision which are the followed by waves of joy filled relief and exhilaration, forgiveness and love. There is a temptation in all of this so think that this moment itself is the centre of what it means to be Christian, where their entire lives of faith hinge on this single moment which is to be remembered with a warm, fuzzy glow.
That would be like framing your birth certificate, hanging it on a wall and then insisting that everyone who enters you house stand an adore it. The certificate does not matter more than the reason why you were given it. What matters is that you are alive in the here and now. What you do with your baptism matters more than the fact that you are baptized. When Jesus talks with Nicodemus about new birth, we should not think that we ought to spend all our time reflecting on our baptism, and what it means. Baptism matters, but so does what you do with it and your life as a whole too.
Baptism and Death
Baptism is a key part of our lives. It is Holy and sacramental. It provides an anchoring moment to return to when we get off track and need to re-connect with God in deeper more meaningful ways. Jesus teaches us that we must die to our old ways, … to our former life in order to be more like him. We can not hold on to the past and expect a new Christ filled future. Baptism unites us to Christ and each other. Through baptism we turn to Jesus as our leader, with you following him, becoming more like him and in turn join with every other person who has done likewise before us as members of the Church.
It is through our baptism that we have already faced death. We renounce evil, or former lives and turn too Christ in a public display. This is a time of spiritual rebirth. Physical birth and death can happen instantaneously, within seconds of each other or they may be separated by decades. This relationship of birth and death is what we call life. This means that living is more than a collection of days or years. It is all of who we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually interacting with the glory of God in God’s creation. Physical death is not the end of our spiritual life. Instead it is the beginning of a new relationship with our Creator God, Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit.
The in everyday life.
All of that sounds real nice right? We are currently living in the in between time and that this life is transitory. Most of these things are not new to us. So why is it that we have a hard time looking at the reality that each of us will die? You will die at some point. I will die at some point. Why do we avoid even thinking and talking about it?
Perhaps it is because we are afraid. We do not really know what to expect. Is there really a great light or is that just stuff happening in your brain and imagined? Is there really something beyond this life? Will it hurt? What if I don’t make it in and God does not want me after all.
Perhaps we avoid thinking about our death because we really and earnestly believe that it only happens when someone is really, really old and we all agree that their time come. We only accept and allow for this circumstance in our heart and mind and reject that we may die at any time and that it is completely out of our control.
Perhaps we think of our death as a kind of disease that we can catch if we think about it too long. We do not want a sentence of loneliness where our world gets smaller, and smaller. There does not appear to be a whole lot of ‘positivity’ coming from thinking about our death, so it must be better to avoid the thought in the first place.
The trouble with this is that you end up avoiding the robust life that comes when you fully accept that death is a part of life. When we fully accept that this life has an end, and that it can arrive at any time are freed from many of the pressures, worries and anxieties that come with it. I suspect that many of us avoid thinking about our own dying because we are not fully satisfied or settled with what we accomplished in our personal lives and in our own life of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Part of the good news is that there is still time. We have as much time as we are given, and it is up to each of us to figure out what to do with what we have as faith filled Christians who confidently know that this life really is transitory and that the God we know loves us and would never leave us alone, in this life or the next.
Reframing our lives
We may not want to face the reality of our death, or the circumstances that it might arrive in, but it will come at some point. We can fool ourselves into not sleeping and hoping not to face it, but we will be caught and likely unprepared. Jesus has prepared a place and a path for us to take, and even escorts us along it to himself. Right now is the in between time. In this space we have our own unique purpose and passion for ourselves and for God. In this time learn from our master, Jesus Christ and are empowered by His Holy Spirit. When we have done this, we will find that we are more at peace in this transitory life, and are freed to fully accept all the blessings that come with it, such Baptism, Community, Godly love and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. Amen.