Learning To Laugh At Death
By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
On this day and in this gathering there are two birthdays that coincide.
The first is the birthday of this Sunday afternoon congregation which, I have been told, first gathered half a decade ago. Some of you who are here today were here also when this congregation was born.
The second birthday is the Holy Baptism we celebrate today as Griffin David McIsaac is brought to the waters of salvation. This little one, born less than a year ago, will be born yet again as God’s child, a member of Christ’s Body the Church, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. All of us here today will witness Griffin’s baptism, his second birth, and thus will have opportunity to remember what it means for us to live the Christian life.
Each one of these birthdays amounts to an expansion of the ever-expanding Christ. The resurrected One, who now reigns in glory, still takes on new forms.
Among us Christ does so in the fellowship of a congregation and in the face of a child: Christ takes on appearances new and fresh. He has done so through members of this congregation, members both present and departed, and he will continue thus to make himself known. Soon Christ will take on an appearance new and fresh in our smallest brother Griffin David and will continue to do so in ways rich and rare throughout the years of his life. For as the poet Hopkins tells us, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”
But there is more to Holy Baptism and to living baptismal life than Christ taking on new forms. We must return the favor. And so today’s reading contains an exhortation from St. Paul: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” But what does this mind of Christ involve? A self-emptying, known by the Greek word kenosis, one of the central words in the Christian vocabulary.
Although equal to the Father in divine dignity, Christ takes on human likeness: he is born in our slavery so that we may be forever free. This is the mind of Christ, his intention, his ardent aim, that takes him from heaven to earth, from the manger to the cross, and from the shame and horror of execution to the triumph of a deserted tomb and a heavenly throne. It all hinges on surrender, emptiness, a willingness to let go of everything, absolutely everything, even existence itself This is the mind of Christ. This is what we embrace as we live the baptismal life.
And when we have a hand in baptizing anyone, then we are making new again our own commitment to accepting Christ’s mind as our own. And we are committing ourselves as well to helping the newly baptized to gain that same mind. Through baptism and every other liturgy of the church, we announce that death and resurrection is the pattern that takes us to life which is truly life. And thus we say no to power and no to acquisition and no to knowledge and no to anything else insofar as they may seem like ways to life. We are accepting death and resurrection not only as the pattern undergone once by Jesus, but also as the pattern that runs as a thread of significance and glorification through the decades of our lives.
There is a sense in which any place where people live is a Calvary, a Golgotha, a place of crucifixion. Consider the shattered societies we call Iraq and Afghanistan. Consider American families driven from their homes by a combination of bad judgment and immoral governance and unrestricted greed. Consider all the other places we know about from the news or from our direct experience where Christ is crucified yet again in the person of children and women and men, in those who are innocent and those who are guilty. The globe remains a Calvary, a Golgotha, a place of crucifixion.
Yet we know as well that the world’s last night will give way to the dawning of the sun of righteousness, a day of daylight resplendent and glorious. Then a larger truth will become apparent: that this globe is a blossoming garden, a resurrection garden, and that final day an endless Easter when those who belong to Christ will rise up in glory.
As Christians we believe this, and we believe it ever more deeply as the kenosis of Christ, his self-emptying, plays out yet again, and this time on the stage of our own life. We believe in the glory yet to be revealed, because death and resurrection has become the heartbeat of our spirit, and has proven itself true, and even more completely true, in circumstances we experience.
How great is this awesome adventure! The death and resurrection of Jesus making itself known in more and more people–this is the great theme underlying the five years of this congregation’s existence even as it underlies the existence of every community that claims the faith of Jesus.
It is into this awesome adventure that we propose to plunge Griffin David that he may share in the death and resurrection of Jesus from a tender age. We want to teach him to laugh at death, and we want to laugh at death ourselves, because we know from the inside that life is eternal and unconquerable, a life eager to take on new and fresh form, the Christ who wills to play in ten thousand times ten thousand lives, lovely in lives that have become his own for ever.
Copyright 2010 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.