We are a death-denying culture. In the US, the Funeral business is a $20 Billion industry employing over 13,000 people nationwide! And, in 2016 we crossed that line where over half of the American’s who passed away choose cremation over a burial. If we don’t choose cremation, we apply technics to the body to make it look less like a corpse.
While all of this may seem to be honoring, and to be sure, it is to many, there is an element in our treatment of our loved ones who pass as an attempt to escape dealing with our own mortality. We hide from the terrifying truth of our mortal life. And that fear of death drives so many of our passions to rule us rather than we mastering them. By the way, if you want to read a wonderful book about a traditional Orthodox way of honoring and interring the faithful passed, I recommend highly “A Christian Ending” by J. Mark and Elizabeth Barna.
Look at our lesson today in Romans 6:3-11:
Brethren, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For 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 our Lord.
While the Orthodox Church attempts to get us to step back and see all of the Lord’s earthly ministry as His saving work, it would simply be wrong to not see the central reality of suffering and even physical death as a message we cannot ignore or minimize. Jesus was born to die and live again. And so were you!
St. Paul’s magnificent Romans epistle spells out this wisdom through the Divine Mystery of Baptism as an icon of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ SO THAT you will appreciate just what the Church is saying to you at your own baptism. Notice three inescapable Truths in Christian Baptism:
First, You have to Die to Live. This plays out in so many ways even in our everyday lives. I have to die to the choices that destroy me so that I can live by the choices that engender life within me. I have to die to live. Of course, dying entails suffering. It is simply delusional to pretend that this Christian Way is going to have me avoiding suffering, no matter what the modern prophets of “feel good” religion as mere therapy may promise. Dying means being willing to pass through temporary suffering to get to eternal joy!
Next, You were meant for Freedom. Christian baptism embarks the newly baptized on a life of purposeful and pursued freedom from the brokenness and slavery of sin and death. This new way of living on the other side of Baptism is meant to foster freedom from sin (“missing the mark”) and freedom from the dead-end notion that sin is just “breaking the rules.”
Finally, You were meant to be LIKE Christ. We baptize SO THAT we will become like Jesus Christ. Period. Full Stop. End of discussion. The purpose of the Mystery of Baptism is to emulate Jesus in His death AND His resurrection! AND all the wisdom of the Faith preserved for you through the centuries is meant to equip you to live out the purpose of your baptism.
Today, it’s time we Orthodox Christians abandon the death-denying culture of delusion of our modern age. It’s time we Orthodox Christians live out the promise of our theology and enter daily into the eternal blessings of our Baptism as Christians. It’s time we be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, please grant me the courage to not hide from the reality of my own mortality. Give me the grace to see Your victory over death as my freedom from the power of the fear of death to enslave me to fantasy and delusion. Help me today, O Lord, to stare death in the face and not fear because You have gone before me as my Conquering Savior to destroy the power of death so that this victory is given to me and to all humanity and to the whole creation. Amen.