Grace and Peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
Today we look forward to two beginnings: Sophia Satrom will begin her Christian life as a baptized child of God, and on Wednesday, we will begin the church season of Lent. At first, they may sound like unrelated events. What could they have in common other than the fact that they’ve both been written on my calendar for the last month?
If you studied your Prairie Prophet newsletter, you may already know. Lent has traditionally been a period of preparation for baptism. People in the early church who somehow heard of Jesus and desired to be a part of the community who followed and worshipped him would spend the forty days of Lent in study, worship, and introduction into the community’s life. They would be baptized at the Easter Vigil. This would be the Saturday night of Easter weekend. Much as we celebrate it today, they would gather in darkness, remembering the darkness of grief and fear when Jesus died and was buried, and then a new fire would be started, words of God’s promise would be read, and eventually the new dawn would come when all rejoice and remember that Jesus was raised from the dead. To be baptized on this night emphasized that when we are baptized, we are joined with Jesus in death. We die to our selfish way of life, we die to the power of sin, and we die in a reminder that death seems to have inescapable power over us. But death and darkness do not last. Jesus did not stay dead. God raised Jesus from the dead into life forever. In baptism, God raises us with Jesus, so that no matter what happens to us, we would always been kept strongly and safely in God’s gift of life forever. Imagine the joy of celebrating your own resurrection along with the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection!
Nowadays, we don’t really have any special day when we baptize. Some churches still encourage people to be baptized on Easter Vigil, and have a long period of preparation for baptism. Our new hymnal has some extra services in the baptism section just for this purpose. You might take a look at the “Welcome to Baptism” rite to learn more. We tend to have baptisms on days that make sense based on family reasons more than church ones.
The long process of preparing for baptism seems to have gone by the wayside as well. Today, most of us were raised in families who were at least nominally Christian. So, when we were born, our parents brought us to be baptized because that’s just one of the many things good parents are supposed to do. Confirmation may be an attempt to recapture this historic period of preparation. It provides an opportunity for learning, witness, and grasping for oneself the responsibilities of being a member of the community of Christ.
Even for those of us who have long been baptized and confirmed, Lent can still be a powerful period of preparation. It might be the perfect time to live more deeply into one of those baptismal promises you affirmed at confirmation: “to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” Or maybe what you most need is to live more fully into the promise we speak to the newly baptized: “You belong to Christ, in whom you have been baptized. Alleluia.” Lent is a time for us to live more fully into our identity and our calling as members of the community who follows and worships Jesus.
On this last Sunday before Lent, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus. We have a glimpse of Jesus in all his glory. It’s this Jesus, shining with the divine light, in the presence of the honored prophets, recognized as the Son of God by the very voice of God, who we’ll follow on his journey towards the cross this Lent.
I tend to think of the Jesus of my Lenten journey as dirty and weary, burdened with the illness, hurt, and sin of the world. I tend to think of him as plodding his way towards the cross, a cloud of death and gloom hanging over him. This Jesus tends to match the mood I’ve often associated with the Lenten season.
But that’s not the Jesus who sets us towards the Lenten journey. We have Transfigured Jesus. Changed Jesus. Shining like a lightbulb and clothed in such a bright white that it would surely be chosen over that Clorox bleached sample.
When Peter and James and John see Jesus in this glory, see him talking with Moses and Elijah, and hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” we can imagine that they are more than a little overwhelmed. He’s even more than the Jesus they see restoring sight to the blind, life to the dead, and outsiders to a community. He’s so glorious and powerful that these trusted disciples end up flat on their faces in fear. But then, in a few short moments, he’s the regular Jesus they’ve always known, telling them not to fear. Jesus also tells them not to share this amazing vision with anyone until after his resurrection from the dead.
This revelation on the mountain should have clued the disciples in to expect the amazing. In the dark hours of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and burial, why didn’t they remember this moment and have hope?
On this side of heaven, we won’t get any answers from Peter, James, or John. But, we can ask ourselves and see how our lives will answer. Most of us have been baptized into Jesus Christ. We have died with Christ and have been raised with him. We know both Jesus’ servant humility and his divine glory. As we enter Lent, as we hear the promises of baptism being spoken to Sophia, to her parents Kris and Kayla, and her godparents Nick, Steph, Megan, and Brandon, and wonder how well we live into those promises in our daily lives.
Baptism is a gift from God that includes God’s unfailing promise to claim us for life as well as God’s calling us into a specific way of life. That life is cruciform, cross-shaped. The baptized are united with Jesus Christ and so their lives look like Jesus’. Lent is a time in our church year when we especially ask ourselves if that is true, and take on practices that are meant to help us follow Jesus. We also spend much time in confession, recognizing that we often fail to live as Jesus, fail to heed God’s command that Jesus is the Son of God, to whom we should listen.
It is difficult to follow Jesus today. I think that’s why I’ve always pictured my Lenten Jesus as dusty and road-weary. Today’s Gospel reminds me that the same Jesus who enters all the grime of our lives is also the one who shines in bleached white. The path of baptized discipleship may leave us dirty and discouraged, but we follow knowing that we have already been made clean, claimed for life, and granted the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been united with Jesus.
The Jesus who is revealed as the glorious Son of God is the same Jesus who seeks out the lost, the shamed, and the broken. He is the Son of Man who enters all the pain of our human experience. He is the One into whose body we are baptized and whose lifestyle we are called to follow this Lent. The glorious vision of divinity and resurrection might be just the hope and promise we most need as we try to bravely enter the Christian life.
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