Epiphany and Resurrection
Last Friday, Kathy and I went to Chicago for the final service in the chapel at the old Evanston campus of Seabury (the seminary I served before coming to Christ Church) and for the blessing of the school’s new site near O’Hare airport in Chicago. As part of the liturgy in the new space, Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago led us in a renewal of our Baptismal Covenant.
Normally I tend to space out when clergy make extemporaneous asides during the liturgy. (I’m enough of a traditional Episcopalian to want them just to read what it says in the prayer book without adding creative special material.) But Bishop Lee introduced the baptismal vow renewal in words that touched me then and that I’ve carried with me since. His words went something like this: “Since we have died with Christ and have risen to new life with him in Baptism, let us renew our Baptismal Covenant.”
Now on some level I have known what Jeff Lee said then on an intellectual level for years. After all, the prayer book Baptismal liturgy speaks of water in these words:
In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 306)
Clearly, you can hear and even say aloud words many times without actually taking them in. The early Christians saw in the Jewish rite of washing in Baptism an analogy with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as Jesus died on the cross and was raised at the empty tomb, so the baptized person goes down into the water in a death to their old story and rises into a new risen life with Jesus in the here and now.
When we Christians talk about resurrection, we usually use the term to refer to life after death. But, as Bishop Lee’s words suggested, the primary meaning of resurrection for Christians has always assumed a present reality first: we have died and been reborn in this life. For you and me followers of Jesus, before resurrection suggests life beyond death it is first about new life before death. We have died with Jesus in his death. We have been raised with Jesus in his resurrection. We shall be like him. We are offered new life now.
Yesterday was the first Sunday after the Epiphany, also known as the Baptism of our Lord. On that day we remember Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, and we reaffirm our own baptismal covenant. If Baptism is about our dying with Jesus and rising to new life now, what might the outlines of that new life look like?
The Baptismal Covenant gives us some clues about the qualities of risen life. It poses five questions to help us frame and describe it:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Resurrected life in the here and now bears the characteristics implied by the questions above. Resurrected life is grounded and faithful. It is marked by continual repentance and forgiveness. Resurrected life is open about its commitments. It sees God in all people. Resurrected life respects the dignity of every person.
We talk about resurrection at Easter and at funerals, and it is appropriate that we do so. A part of the Christian hope is the proclamation that Jesus’s resurrection means ongoing life in God for him and us. But resurrection talk is important at Epiphany, too, because the season enacts the manifestation, the “epiphany”, of God’s glory in the human community and world. God’s glory has been manifested in Jesus and in us. And we manifest God’s glory whenever we step into and enact resurrected living in the here and now.
Christ is risen. We shall be too. We already are. Let’s live that way.