The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 9:43-45....It is astonishing, is it not, that at the height of his powers, at the peak of his fame, Jesus begins to talk about his death? We, like the first disciples, are afraid to talk about death. And yet, it is at the center of our faith.
And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
My reading for today, from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, happens to coincide thematically with the Gospel lectionary reading for today....
Baptism is a rite of passage. The Jewish people passed through the Red Sea to the Promised Land in the great exodus. Jesus himself wanted to make this exodus by passing through suffering and death into the house of his heavenly Father. This was his baptism. He asked his disciples and now asks us: "Can you ... be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?" (Mark 10:38). When the apostle Paul, therefore, speaks about our baptism, he calls it a baptism into Jesus' death (Romans 6:4).When someone dies in what we consider to be the beginning or the middle of life, we often, understandably, ask: Why? At such times, perhaps we need to remember that Jesus died in the middle of life. He was only thirty-three years old. We normally think of this as life cut short. But in Jesus' case, as we view his life and death in the context of the whole of Scripture, we see that his death was the next necessary step in what C. S. Lewis called "The Great Dance". Jesus' death was necessary to bring us new life, through his resurrection. So, in their own small way, perhaps the deaths of our loved ones (whether in what we think of as the beginning, the middle, or the end of life) can bring us new life as well. At first it is very hard for us to see this, just as it is hard if not impossible to see the crocus as it begins to grow underground at the beginning of Spring.
To be baptised means to make the passage with the people of Israel and with Jesus from slavery to freedom and from death to new life. It is a commitment to a life in and through Jesus.
"Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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: 3, 4 (NIV)
In times of grief, we need to remember that we are all baptized into Jesus' death. We need to recall that Jesus came to identify with us in death and grief; he understands all the suffering we endure in this life. And we also need to remind ourselves that death is only part of the story, part of a much larger picture, that includes new life. In baptism we descend into the water, but we also come up again.