Filed under: Sermons | Tags: death, dying and rising, eternal life, grace, kingdom, resurrection
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
We open the letter to the Romans in the midst of one of Paul’s long teaching arguments. The wider context is that he is trying to explain this difficult and wonderful thing called grace. God’s grace is God’s freely given love for you and me. Grace is God’s acceptance of all people, God’s choosing to save all people, not based on each person’s holiness, but based on God’s loving action through Jesus Christ.
When we turn to this passage, we hear Paul speaking to us and the original audience about life and death. It’s all about how Christ has changed both our dying and our living.
Jesus has worked a great reversal for us. It’s not the order we typically think of, but Paul tells us that we have already died and now live in Christ.
Jesus Christ has already paved the way of our dying and our rising. Jesus died and was buried. On the third day, God raised him from the dead. Jesus lives today. Jesus is the first of all who will be raised from the dead.
Those who have been baptized have been united with Jesus. Our baptism so connects us with Jesus that we have already experienced death and resurrection, because Jesus has already experienced death and resurrection.
When we are baptized, we experience a death and burial. The water covers us and we die. The life lived selfishly, the life lived for our own sake, the life lived alone, the life lived in fear, ends and is washed away in the baptismal font.
We are brought up, out of the water, into new life. With water still clinging to us, we are marked with the sign of the cross. This cross marks our new identity and new reality. In Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen one, we live. Even now, we have been brought into new life.
Often we think about resurrection as a gift that comes after death. For some, the hope of eternal life can help to calm fears about death and brings comfort in times of grief.
But what if we reframed the way we looked at death? What if we let the good news of the reversal Christ has won really sink in? What if death wasn’t something we were waiting for, but was something already behind us? How would it change you to think that you’ve already died?
There would be freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from wondering and worrying about the future. Freedom from spending all your effort trying to run from death. Jesus has already dealt with the sting of death.
Freedom from the fear of death would make room for freedom to live. Freedom to live in this moment. Freedom to trust that life continues into greater joy. Freedom to give thanks that all of your future is held secure in God’s hands.
Most people don’t like to think about death. We tend to do whatever we can to avoid the thought that all people die. But there are some who have faced down their death. Who have lived through a serious illness or accident and come to see their life as a gift they almost lost. Sometimes people have a near-death experience that changes the way they live. Afterwards, their priorities are rearranged. Family becomes more important. Money becomes less important. Leaving a legacy by impacting the world in some way becomes a goal.
It this kind of near-death life-change that Paul is trying to get at as he describes the death and resurrection we experience through Jesus. Our first death in Christ is mean to put to death all that is death-dealing within us. Paul invites us to put aside destructive behaviors and other ways of living that are short-sighted. We’re invited to live for the long term: the eternal life we are already experiencing. We’re called to live the Kingdom of God now and forever, reveling in the joy, love, and mercy that are hallmarks of the Kingdom.
Of course, we know all too well that we will experience a death that will separate us from life as we know it now. We have lost friends and family members, and though we trust they are alive in Christ, we miss their presence. Grief in death is still real. Yet hope and faith can also grow in our hearts. Jesus has broken the power of death to hold us. Death no longer can swallow up us or our loved ones forever. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus has gained victory over death. All those who have been united with Jesus in baptism gain the spoils of Jesus’ victory. You are given life in God’s presence forever.
God speaks promise and invitation to you through this text. The promise is that those who have died and departed are continuing their life through Jesus Christ. The invitation is to experience eternal life now: to live in the fullness of God’s love and grace even in the midst of a decaying world.
May this promise and invitation give you comfort and purpose. Through water and the Spirit, you are alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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