Putting on the Mantle of Christ II – The Freedom of the Loved
First Sunday in Lent, Year B
1 March 2009
There is a problem at the heart of classical systematic theology. Systematic theology likes statements with a subject verb and object and a period. The problem with that is the Bible. The Bible likes stories and poems and multiple voices. It is very frustrating. God is Omniscient says classical theology, but in the Bible God hears the cries of the people of Israel, he tells Moses, after four hundred years! God blesses those who are righteous says theology, but the Bible lifts up David.
Today’s Gospel puts a problem right in the lap of the theologian who says, Jesus is without sin. If that is true, then why would Jesus be baptized with a baptism of repentance? Matthew even has John demurring from the baptism. The clergy of this area of the diocese got together and discussed this at some length for the Bishop’s Lectionary on Monday. There is no easy, obvious answer.
But I want to give you something to play with: if sin is the gap between us and God (or God’s community under Torah) and the incarnate of God takes that gap into himself, then it is healed. This would make the Baptism stand with the Incarnation and Crucifixion and Resurrection as the four pillars of the salvation of humanity. It isn’t perfect either, but it does begin to put the Baptism in its place as part of Mark’s birth story. In fact it has a couple of parallels in the crucifixion, like the same word for the heavens being torn open is used for the rending of the temple veil. They both do the same thing, making the holy available, present.
Last week I talked to you about putting on the mantle of Christ. Today, I want to continue that idea. In our baptism we are putting on the mantle of Christ. It is one of the reasons we wear white, though we often say that it prefigures the Resurrection, it is Christ who is the first fruits of that day. But I think the image is more direct. We are buried with Christ in his death and raised again to new life in our baptism. We put on the mantle of Christ and are the redeemed who gather at the table of the Lord.
The church has not always thought this way. In fact, I like the old way better. It worked like this. You are a sinner that is never really redeemed, so you have to keep coming back to the priest and temple and doing the things we do here SO THAT God will/can love you. In the Bible it was a great system, for the priests. The prophets were always wailing against it, as they will, but it was a good system, for the priest. I like that system: you need something that I can provide, at a price. And you keep needing it, and I can keep providing it. Because you are a sinner, unredeemed.
Unfortunately for me, there is the work of Christ in the Bible, for as you went down with Christ into the waters of Baptism, so also you come up, dripping wet and new, to hear the voice of the Spirit saying to you, “This is my Child, whom I love.” You are redeemed, and suddenly my job is in danger. You are God’s own child! You can approach God directly, like a loving parent, hence Jesus saying, Abba.
If you really got this, you would walk differently. You would pray differently. You would live differently. Your mind, your knowing, your very being would be changed. That is what repentance means. If you trust this good news, then you would be a new person.
And my job would be a different job. You wouldn’t come here to watch a sacrifice performed for your sins, you would come to remember what Christ has done and who you are because of it. You wouldn’t come to watch a priest, you would come to be a priest. You wouldn’t come to hear a prayer, you would come to pray. You wouldn’t come to hear liturgy or watch liturgy, you would be the liturgy lived. And you wouldn’t come to merely receive the body of Christ, you would be the Body of Christ. And I wouldn’t have to pray for you, I would pray with you. I wouldn’t have to be Christ for you, I would be Christ with you. I wouldn’t have to convince you, I would just remind you, and you would say, Amen.
I am still open if anyone wants to make the old deal. It works for me. Any takers? I am sure, even if don’t say it, some part of you wants that old deal. Because it costs a lot, but it sure is comforting. It was the people who asked Moses to talk to God and let God talk to Moses, “ . . . but don’t let God talk to us, lest we should die.” Or worse we should have to live out all of that difficult stuff. You see if you are a worthless sinner, it may not feel good here, but you don’t have to change or grow. You just have to keep coming back to the temple with you drachmas. And we all like that.
So please don’t take your baptism seriously. Let us go back to the way it was. Let’s rebuild the temple, sew up the veil, and put aside the redemption of Christ. Sure you give up a lot, but it is a good deal. Any takers?