Transformed Into Christ: All Saints' Day (Year C)
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Today, we welcome three children into the Family of God. By God’s grace they will be washed in the waters of baptism and sealed with the sign of the Holy Spirit (BCP, 308).
We offer this joyful sacrament on the Feast of All Saints. We ask for the Saints to be our example and to aid us with their prayers in our Christian journey (BCP, 504). And we hope and pray that one or more of these little ones will grow into the sainthood to which God calls all of us.
But of course, this is very difficult to do. All of us adults in the room have been around the block enough times to shed the naivete that life is peachy and easy. Just surviving in this world, in this society, is difficult enough. And Christ’s call to discipleship is an added layer of challenge that each of us understands.
Christ calls us to forsake the love of the world and turn instead toward love of humanity (philanthropy). Life is not about gratifying one’s own desires. That self-gratification drives most people toward violence, hatred, bigotry, dishonesty, unfaithfulness, etc. We hurt each other most when we place our own desires above the needs of others.
The key marker of the Christian life, the most prominent signpost for others to see is our love for enemies. Jesus teaches,
“I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Only by God’s superabundant grace can we resist the urge to retaliate and harm those who hurt us. Only by the sacrifice of Christ can we show mercy to those who won’t be merciful to us. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we pray for the wellbeing of our persecutors and tormentors.
When we baptize these children, we send them down into the depths to follow Christ into death. And by the miraculous power of God, we will raise them up into new life as God raised Jesus from the dead. In baptism the image and likeness of God are restored to their original created glory. In baptism we see a glimpse of how we were made to be.
God willing, each of these children will have a very long life on earth ahead of them. They will face many trials and temptations of all kinds.
But most frequently, they will be tempted to hurt those who hurt them, to repay perceived slights with more attacks. The seed of hate and revenge is planted when our egos tell us that we are superior to others. We are always tempted to up the ante in a conflict, to turn up the dial and respond to hate with hate. To look for slight or an offense from someone, even if there isn’t one.
But Christ models a different way. Jesus knows himself to be superior and humbles himself anyway. He chose to come among us as a human child. He turns his cheek to his oppressors. Jesus accepts the abuse of the world without physical retaliation. He tells his disciples to put their swords away in the Garden of Gethsemane. And he accepts the torture and death of the Cross.
Each of us is who is baptized into the Body of Christ is also called to carry the Cross. The Cross will come in many forms, but what we can say is that it will not be easy.
The saints of the church have always been keenly aware of how hard it is to lead a life of faithfulness to God. St. Gregory of Nazianzus was the Bishop of Constantinople in the late 300s, and he was a brilliant preacher. We have one of his sermons from a day when his parish held baptisms on a feast day, just as our parish does today.
He speaks to those who are about to be baptized and reminds them that they will repeatedly face temptations in their life on earth. They will constantly be pushed to curse rather than to bless, to retaliate rather than to forgive, to hate rather than to love. And in the face of these kinds of trials, St. Gregory encourages us to pray with these words:
“I am myself the Image of God; ... I have put on Christ; I have been transformed into Christ by Baptism” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations 40.10).
These are holy and truthful words that we can use to drown out the hateful lies of the Enemy. The baptized people of God can rest assured in our identity as “Christ’s own forever” (BCP, 308), and the power of God resides with us in our souls at all times. We are not left helpless or powerless in our hardships. God remains and the Spirit of God rests with us, as it will rest with these children.
Baptisms are joyful occasions. We should rejoice with God and the heavenly host that a lost sheep was gathered back into the fold.
But at the same time, this is a solemn occasion. We have all been Christians long enough to know that we are sending them on an impossible task. The call from God is to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48) -- that call is impossible for us. We cannot do it. We’ll struggle and fight with all our might, stretching every nerve toward the heavenly prize, and all of us will fail.
And yet we have hope! For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible (Matt 19:26)!
God is gracious and merciful to us. God welcomes even the outcasts and the sinners. God welcomes even me and you. And God has welcomed India, MacKenzie, and Liam into the Family of the Church. They won’t be perfect, they’ll be called to do the impossible. But that’s why we’re doing it together, why we have the church around us to support us and carry us through the ups and the downs. By God’s grace, we are moving together toward the heavenly call. So let all the baptized pray this prayer, knowing:
“I am myself the Image of God; ... I have put on Christ; I have been transformed into Christ by Baptism” Amen.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations, “Oration 40: On Holy Baptism,” http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310240.htm.