“ Dying He Destroyed Our Death; Rising He Restored Our Life” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022

Yesterday evening, in this very church building, I sent a lovely young  woman, Via, to her death.

And I did it with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. What’s more, her husband, Patrick, watched me do it, and not only did he not try to stop me, but he was smiling and rejoicing as well, along with members of his family and other members of St Philip’s parish community. So carried away was I by what I had done, that this morning at St Clare’s, I repeated my actions, and sent two others to their death, in this case they were children, and once more their families didn’t try to stop me, but clapped and cheered while I did it. Now, before you all react in horror, and rush to call the cops, I should say at once that, straight after I put these people to death, I raised them to life again. So, don’t worry, all three of them are walking around, safe and well .

So what on earth am I talking about? 

Of course, I am referring to BAPTISM.

St Paul says is very clearly, in his letter to the Romans (yesterday evening’s Epistle reading ), “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:4-5). 

You notice that St Paul starts off by asking: ”Do you not know”. I have to say, in my experience, that many Catholics actually do not know what their baptism is all about – forgiveness of sins, resurrection and eternal life – judging by the fear and lack of faith and hope they display when approaching their own death or death of a loved one. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus took on our human nature, and died in that nature on the cross, so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2: 14-15). I must say that for much of my teenage and young adult life, I was one of those who had a fear of death, because I did not know that my baptism united me to Christ in his death and resurrection, and therefore, I would rise again , as He had done, rise to everlasting life and heaven. I did not know,at that time, the Scriptures. Now I do, and read them regularly, more than any newspaper or Google article. Where on any social media platform or in any secular newspaper could I ever read such powerful words of hope and truth as these words also from St Paul to the Romans? “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all,but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 6: 8 – 11).

I never knew that my baptism had released in me the power of the Holy Spirit by which I was enabled to lead a holy life, that I did not have to be consumed by sin and shame and guilt. Yes, I still sin, I still go to my confessor every two weeks, and tell him what a wretched sinner I am, but now I know that, once absolved by him, then I don’t have to carry around the burden of my failures and shame anymore. It has been taken to the cross and nailed there, (Colossians 2:14) and I have died to it and don’ t have to relive and remember it any more, because Christ certainly doesn’t. Because I didn’t know the Scriptures at that time, I didn’t know that by believing in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, I already had eternal life. In Jesus own words from John’s gospel “Everyone who believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36) .Not will have or may have, but has. You and I, brothers and sisters, by virtue of our baptism, already walk and live in the dimension of eternity. But it is up to us to keep on walking out that baptism, staying on the road, laying aside every weight of sin, and running with perseverance the race of eternal life that is set before us, and keeping our eyes, in the words of the Book  of Hebrews, fixed on Jesus, who began our life of faith and will bring it to perfection (cf Hebrews 12: 1-2). 

We have to choose to stay on that path, or our baptism will not save us.

That is why I deliberately chose to have both options for our second reading proclaimed by our lector today. The first option for second reading, taken from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians affirms what I have been saying, that, through our baptism, we “have died, and now our real life, our supernatural life, is hidden with Christ in God, to be revealed in Christ at the end of time.” But already, through our baptism, we are headed to heavenly glory, so, as St Paul says, that should be our focus, not anything in this life, which is destined to pass away. Something real and different happened to us when we were baptized, we have been saved, in that our sins are washed away, we are made sons and daughters of God, and share in the very nature of God, and made fit for heaven.

But our second option for the second reading, from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, warns us that this is merely the first step towards salvation. We have to keep “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), seeking to keep the virus of sin out of our souls, as I was saying in my homily on Good Friday. In that second reading from Corinthians, Paul refers to sin as leaven, as yeast, and says that when we were baptized that old yeast of malice and evil was removed from us, so we must now live out our lives with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 

Evangelical Protestants are fond of asking “Are you saved?”

The correct biblical and theological answer to that question is in three parts: (1) yes, I have been saved- it is a concrete historical fact that, by his death and resurrection, Christ has won for us the gift of everlasting life and I enter into that gift by being baptized; (2) I am being saved, in that I have to continue to live out  my baptismal vows to God in sincerity and truth – I can never rest on my laurels at any point in my earthly life, thinking I have already made it (St Paul to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained resurrection from the dead or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus made me his own” (Phil 3:12). And finally not only have I been saved, and am being saved, but (3) I hope to be saved. As St Paul says in his letter to the Romans (8:24) “in hope we were saved”. And this hope is not a vague, fingers-tightly-crossed hope, but a firm assurance, based on Christ’s promises to me at my baptism, and the fact that Christ has given a guarantee of salvation at my baptism, through his gift of the Holy Spirit, the down-payment on my heavenly inheritance (Ephesians 1: 14).

I have been saved, I am being saved, and I hope to be saved.

That is the biblical and theological truth we are celebrating this Easter day, brothers and sisters, and it is the direct consequence of our baptism.  Any other reality we must die to, any belief that we don’t need saving, that we are pretty good people really, not mass-murderers, or that there is another way to go to be saved, other than through Christ. The Bible and the Christian Church recognize that, in the words of St Peter in Acts of the Apostles: ”There is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) than the name of Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again to bring us into eternal life. 

That is the truth we proclaim and rejoice in today. Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Alleluia!!