The sermon below was preached at Holy Trinity Cathedral on the Second Sunday of Easter and the occasion of Baptism and Confirmation. It was requested that it be posted.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
April 27, 2014
By Canon Larry Hill
How do you identify yourself? What makes you N.N., or N.N., or N.N.?
In the days of the biblical stories, names meant something. Abraham meant father of many nations, Jacob meant deceiver… David, beloved of God.
Today, it isn’t so much our name that identifies who we are, but our particular history or experiences. ‘I’m a Floridian! I’m a WWII vet! I’m a Steeler fan! I’m a Designer! I’m an Italian!’
There are lots of ways we choose to identify ourselves. Some may even be humorous. Like the native-American whose name was given for some experience. However, he felt that it was too long, so, he petitioned a judge in Arizona to give him a shorter name.
“What is your name now?” The judge asked. “CHIEF SCREECHING TRAIN WHISTLE,” he answered. “And to what do you wish to shorten it?” asked the judge. He folded his arms majestically and said… “TOOTS!”
Please turn in your bibles to John 20 and let’s see how Jesus identified Himself. Look beginning at v. 19.
I. JESUS’ CREDENTIALS
“He showed them His hands and side.”
Most of us when we introduce ourselves or greet someone, we tend to put our best foot forward, so to speak. Not long into the conversation, we identify ourselves by our title or occupation–“I’m an attorney;” or maybe our family status–“I am the proud Papa!”
Well, in the context of our lesson, the greatest spiritual battle ever fought had just been won on Mount Calvary. As a result, Jesus had a new body–still human, but no longer subject to the frailties of our humanity. It was a glorified body. It was incorruptible. It was immortal! In fact, we are given the impression by John, here in our Gospel, that His body was able to somehow enter a locked room without the door being opened.
But note, Jesus doesn’t call attention to this new reality, does He? He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, check out my new looks. By the way, did you see me pass through that door?”
What does He do? V. 20… He shows them His hands and His side. He shows them His wounds, the piercings, the scars. He shows them the marks of the crucifixion, the marks of the cross.
Those marks declared unmistakably that the Jesus who now stood before them, was the same Jesus who hung on the cross. This was no impostor, no ghost, and no hallucination. The wounds were real. They were touchable.
And the Jesus who suffered death by those very wounds, had overcome them for He is now risen! As He would later say to John in Revelation, “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1).
These scars were and are Jesus’ credentials. And by calling attention to them, He is reminding us that the cross was the very mission of His life… the central fact of His coming… and the glory of His ministry. The Jesus that you and I believe in, seek to follow in our lives is not simply a prophet or an example of righteous living. He’s not just a wonderful teacher but the Lord and Master who has defeated sin and its wages, death. And He has the credentials to prove it! Credentials that not only speak of victory, but credentials that say to us our God knows what it means to suffer. Credentials that say, ours is a God, as Wm. Temple said, “In whose Being pain has its place.” Credentials that say ours is a God who is big enough and compassionate enough to deal with the enormity of our suffering. Credentials that also say ours is a God who knows how to overcome… for by those wounds, as Isaiah prophesied, we are healed!
These Credentials are so integral to who Jesus is, that neither time, nor eternity has erased them. For as John saw in his vision recorded Revelation… in the center of the throne of heaven, is the Lamb that has been slain… in the center of the throne is Jesus and His scars.
As Jesus came into the room Easter evening, He identified Himself by those scars… the scars that speak to us of forgiveness, of new life and eternal hope.
This is the Jesus that you and I are bonded with, the Jesus of the Scars–the One who died, but is now alive. But how so? How are we linked to Him? How are we bonded to Him? And how does He shape our identity? Please turn to Acts 2.
II. THE BOND OF BAPTISM
You may remember that on the day of Pentecost, Peter has just preached, proclaiming to the many people gathered there in Jerusalem, that the Jesus, who was crucified and raised from the dead is Lord and Messiah.
Look at v. 37, “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” In other words, “How can we be forgiven of our sins?” “How do we get into the Kingdom of God?” “How do we connect with this Jesus who died and rose again–the Jesus who bears those scars?
V. 38, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is to you and to your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Now, repent simply means to turn–to turn away from sin and to turn to Christ. It is the decision we make in response to the cross.
But Baptism is God’s action. It is the mystery, the sacrament of how God bonds us to who Jesus is and what He has done. It is His means of grace, God’s favor to you and me.
Now, there are some in the wider church, who do not believe that. They say that nothing happens in baptism, except that it is an act of obedience on the part of the candidate and a witness to his or her profession of faith. They turn baptism into something we do, rather than something that is done to us and for us. But that is not the language of the bible.
Listen to Paul’s words. Paul says in Gal. 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” In Rom. 6:3 he says, “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.”
Baptism, according the bible unites us to Christ and His work–His cross and resurrection. It unites us to Jesus of those scars. To be sure, it is not the ground of our salvation, for that is nothing less than the cross and blood of Jesus Christ. But it conveys the grace of what Christ did for us. It conveys to us the cleansing power of the blood of Christ shed on the cross–cleansing us from our sins, as Paul indicates in 1 Cor. 6. It conveys to us, birth from above (being made alive to God) as Jesus indicated to Nicodemus in John 3. And it coveys to us the status of Sonship and membership in God’s family (Gal. 3).
This is the power of baptism in our lives. It is no mere symbol or ceremony. Before baptism ever says that we accept God, it first says that God accepts you and me. It is His pledge or oath of commitment to you and me–His commitment to be faithful to His promises to us–the promise of forgiveness, cleansing from sin, pardon from guilt, peace with God, sonship and union with our Lord and Savior. As Malcolm Smith once said, “Baptism is God’s announcement of His unconditional love. His grace, His covenant, by which He lays hold of me and declaring as He grabs me, ‘This one is mine.’ It is not me telling you of my commitment to Christ. It is God telling me of His commitment to me. His commitment to bring to pass in my life all the terms and promises of the covenant.”
Indeed, Paul, alluding to baptism says in 2 Cor. 1 says, “He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (1:21–22).
It is not magic. It doesn’t mean that if we splash some water on some one and say the right incantation or formula, that ‘presto, chango’… they become perfect disciples of Jesus. No, it still requires our response–a response of faith and trust. We cannot be baptized and remain indifferent to God. Nevertheless, God in His infinite wisdom has chosen a simple material object of water to convey a spiritual reality–the reality of cleansing, new birth, adoption as sons and daughters and union with Christ… union with what He did for us… His cross and resurrection, as declared in His Word.
III. OUR IDENTITY
Back to our original question… How do we identify ourselves?
Remember, Jesus identified Himself with the marks of the cross. He showed them His hands and His side.
In baptism we are branded with His identity. We branded with the cross, which is sacramentally marked on the foreheads of those coming to the waters. We are baptized into union with His death and resurrection. As the cross was the sign by which He would be identified, even as He had a glorified body, it is the sign, the mark, the brand over our lives as well.
Baptism says this is who I am–this is the center of my life, the focus of my life, the goal of my life. “I am first and foremost a child of God who believes and trusts and seeks to follow with all my heart and soul and mind the Jesus who died and rose again for me–the Jesus of the scars.” “And I live by this principle of dying and rising… dying to self, to self-centeredness and selfishness and rising to new life in Him.”
The great reformer, Martin Luther said, that whenever he felt downhearted, tempted, or God-forsaken–(and he felt that way often)–he had one sure way of getting on his feet again: he would take a piece of chalk and write in large letters on his desk, “I have been baptized.” For this identity said to Him and says to us loud and clear, “If God is so for us, who in the world can be against us?
This morning we have the joy of baptizing two of our children, here at Holy Trinity… NN., NN..
NN. has been waiting patiently for the day that he can receive the body and blood of the Lord in Holy Communion. Well the day has arrived and we are excited for him and his little sister.
We also have the joy of welcoming through confirmation–the sacrament of releasing our sonship or strengthening our faith–NN; and receiving into this part of Christ’s, one holy and catholic church–the Anglican Church in North America–NN. NN.
As we do so, let us remember our identity in Christ… remembering as Brennan Manning writes, “The Jesus of my journey is the crucified one. The sign of His Lordship is the cross and the cross alone. It is the signature of the risen One.” Let us remember our identity as people of the cross, and renew our own covenant with the Lord.