Baptized to Live in the Face of Death
Rev. Kurt Lantz Midweek Lent 5 Baptism
March 24, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
The Catechism is a guidebook for the Christian life at all times, but especially in times when our life is threatened, such as this time of pandemic. The promises that the Catechism brings to mind are all the more precious when something tries to take those promises away from us. The promises that God made to you at your Baptism stand firm despite the challenges that life under a pandemic might throw at you. The Catechism is a summary collection of God’s promises. It speaks His Word to you, His child, when His promises to you are in question.
Holy Baptism is holy because it is God’s Baptism given to you. It is not something that you have done to honour Him. It is Him honouring you by calling you into His family and giving you His name. Holy Baptism is holy because it is God’s action, not yours. It is He who accomplishes something in your baptism, and not just on the day when you were baptized, but He still accomplishes His divine work in you each and every day of your baptized life. It is Holy Baptism because it is the promises from a Holy God stated to you in His Holy Word. And because His holy promises are yours in Holy Baptism, they stand no matter what may rear up its head in threat or fright. God’s holy promises to you in in Holy Baptism stand in face of death, allowing you to live in a time when there is so much fear of pestilence and plague.
Psalm 91 mentions plague and pestilence specifically as God promises His people that these things would not befall them. “He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence... you will not fear the pestilence that stalks in the darkness.. No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (Psalm 91:3, 6, 10). Those promises were given specifically to His people as a reminder that God had made them His own. And although He would punish those who turned their face against Him and His people, He would keep His people safe.
Much like the blood on the dooorposts of the houses in the land of Goshen turning away the destroyer of the firstborn in Egypt, the deadly plague would not be allowed to afflict God’s people because He had promised to preserve them by the blood of the Lamb. It is the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that protects you from all plague and pestilence. The very specific case of the blood of the Passover is the graphic illustration that by the blood of Jesus no form of death can overcome you.
How can this possibly be? People die from viral outbreak all the time, including Christians. Many Christians have died from the COVID-19 virus itself. But Christians, who are baptized in the blood of Jesus are not overcome by death. Even though they die, yet shall they live (John 11:25). For having been baptized into the death of Christ, they also live with Him (Romans 6:4). Death has no power over them for they have already died with Jesus and they already have eternal life with Him.
We may lose our current lives to this pestilence, lives that are subject to death in any number of different ways. We might die from this virus as we might die in a car accident or by any other misadventure or disease. But the promises that we have through our Baptism are just as valid in regard to this virus as any other death that we may face. We have already conquered it. We have already gone through it. We have already passed over from death to life.
Let us remind ourselves by reciting from our Catechism,
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
You have been promised from God’s Holy Word that Baptism saves and that your baptism saves you, not because you accomplished anything by being baptized, but because God accomplished it. We have these promises at the end of the Gospel According to Matthew (28:19) and at the end of the Gospel According to Mark (16:16) because Holy Baptism bestows upon you the work of Jesus recorded in the Gospel, His death and resurrection.
In Holy Baptism what happened to Christ has happened to you. His death and resurrection are yours. That is why the sign of His cross was traced upon you when you were baptized and why that sign of the holy cross continues to be the sign of your salvation as you recite the words with which you were baptized: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Remember that this is not just some guy splashing water on you, or you making some wilful decision and demonstrating it by getting wet.
Let the Catechism remind you as we recite together:
How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
It is the power of God’s Word, not yours, not the pastor’s, not the gathered group of people who witnessed your baptism. It is God’s Word, living and active (Hebrews 4:12), that is living and active in you to conquer death and fear and the very real sin that fears death more than it trusts in God. You can confess that sin boldly and confidently as you do all your sins in the daily submerging of the baptized life. And God will bring you back from the depths of death with His daily promise of new life through baptism into Christ’s resurrection.
We restate the promise of God’s Word in the funeral service when death seems to have won, but it is a promise that we can restate daily in times when plague or pestilence, war or riot, danger or despair, fear or anger seem to gain the upper hand, all of which we have seen rear their ugly heads like a hydra in this time of pestilence.
Let us recite together right now as we can every day:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
We were buried with Jesus through baptism. He surely died. The spear of the Roman soldier proved that (John 19:34). And your connection to that death was proved when water and blood flowed out of Jesus’ pierced side. The sacraments given by water and blood are your union to Christ Jesus who truly died and rose again. In Holy Baptism your death and resurrection are already old hat. You’ve been there and done that. You’ve died more horribly than any accident or disease could inflict upon you, because you died with Jesus His horrific death on the cross. And you were buried with Him in that cold, dark tomb. You don’t need to fear it because it has already happened and you came out victorious.
When He rose again and walked out of that tomb, so did you by your union to Him in Holy Baptism. You are living a life that cannot end. You are living the resurrected life now. You are living your baptized life in Christ Jesus. St. Paul tells us that we have died to sin in order that we may live a new life free from sin. That includes dying to the sin of fearing death by any disease, dying to the sin of not trusting God’s promises given to you in Holy Baptism that this death is already conquered. He has already saved you from dying to this plague. He has already given you life in His name that cannot be taken away even by death. Indeed, you live in the face of death by your baptism.
Many Christians have had to live with horrible diseases that slowly or not so slowly took them away in death. I’ve known quite a few and some very close, as I am sure you have as well. The beautiful promises of our Holy God, stated in His Holy Word, were placed upon them in Holy Baptism. Those promises saw them live in the face of death, and die only to live all the more in Christ Jesus.
I didn’t include it in this service because we sang it throughout the season of Epiphany, but the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” states it beautifully: “Death you cannot end my gladness. I am baptized into Christ. When I die I leave all sadness To inherit paradise. Though I lie in dust and ashes, Faith’s assurance brightly flashes. Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine.” (Lutheran Service Book, 594 st. 4)
You can live, and live triumphantly, in the face of death because of your baptism. The blood of Jesus that flowed out along with the water when the spear was plunged into His side, is the same blood of Jesus that washed over you at your baptism when the water was poured over you. You are saved from death by the blood of the Lamb. Plague and pestilence have no entry, they must pass over you when they see the blood of Jesus. Death and disease cannot hold you in their grip, they must give way to life and resurrection, the promises of your Baptism.