Resurrection Transformation and Baptism into Christ: Welcome Zara!
Our account of Jesus’s resurrection this morning is my favorite. Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved get to the grave and find Jesus’s burial clothing. The Gospel says that at least the disciple whom Jesus loved believed, but it also says that they didn’t yet understand the Scriptures: that he would rise from the dead. So they go home. I’ve always understood this as a warning to us disciples to be more patient; not to go our own way based on our time schedules, but rather to wait on God to provide us with the way and the means to do his will.
I’ve interpreted the passage this way because I think this is the witness that Mary provides. This first disciple takes the cake of faithful witness. Mary first sees angels who ask her why she’s weeping. And then she then sees a man she does not recognize who asks her the same thing. She thinks maybe it’s the gardener and so and she says to him, “please, if you have taken him, let me have him and I will take him with me.” Always attentive to the Lord: his time and his way. But the man says to her, “Mary, it is me, Jesus!”
Astonished, exhilarated perhaps, she shouts, “rabbouni” (teacher). It is you my Lord. She had apparently at least attempted to embrace him for he says to her, “Mary, do not yet hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father.” Don’t hold onto me yet. It is not your time to go where I am going. I have work for you Mary, “go and tell my brothers that I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.”.
Overwhelmed with joy Mary rushes off to tell the disciples, to testify to what she has seen. Jesus was not a great man by the world’s standards. Yet the life that he lived, he lived in perfect love for his Father. A love that led to the cross he bore for our sakes even to the end of his life, the cross that would bear the iniquity, the sin of us all; a love that would overcome the darkness, the death that is life without God; a love that would draw us up from the dead to be reconciled to God (c.f. Isaiah 53). This was the life of God that Mary recognized in Jesus’s coming to her, coming amongst the disciples, coming into the world to transform a fallen and broken creation.
And this morning we are celebrating God’s greatest gift to us: adoption. An adoption that brings us, with Mary and young Zara this morning, into a relationship with God. What exactly is this life into which Zara is being adopted through her baptism? Let us remember back to the Gospel reading from Jesus’s own baptism that we celebrated way back in January, Epiphany, shortly after his birth. Remember that when Jesus is baptized, the fullness of God is revealed: And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the [Holy] Spirit descending like a dove on him. And [the Father’s] voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." We can conclude from this that the life into which Zara is being baptized then, is God’s own life; the fullness of who God is, revealed by Jesus in his own baptism. The very act through which Jesus then joins us by his Spirit to our Father. This is the life and the fulfillment of God’s promise to draw her and all humankind through her to him, that Mary recognized in Jesus’s resurrection.
But being baptized into God’s life, or reconciled to God is not merely an individual thing. Zara is being baptized into God’s people; this is why all of you are here not just to witness her being brought into new life, but to actively commit to helping her live that out as she grows up. You will help her, through sharing your own experiences and supporting her in her own trials and challenges so that she can learn take up her own Cross to act in faithful witness to this one who has released her from the state of sin all human beings fell into through Adam and Eve. You see Zara is joined to Jesus’s coming out of the water at baptism. That coming out of the water foreshadows his rising from the grave that we celebrate today, this Easter Sunday.
In Jesus’s rising from the grave, we know that he gives life to all those who are struggling through literal and figurative slavery to their past lives, all those who struggle to make sense of a world turned upside down by this global pandemic we face. All of us are here at one point in our lives: having had to face the stark reality of suffering and death, of social chaos and fear, of the end of the lives of those we love, of the threat to safety, of the isolation of frailty and disease. Despite all of these things hopefully being a long way off for young Zara, as she grows up, all of these issues will be raised for her. But she does not face them alone. For God has claimed her. Her family has promised to nurture her in this love God has given to her, in giving her his life.
And so when these things come up for her, as they inevitably will, she will discover, when she turns to God, that she is not left empty handed and alone to figure it out, or to determine how to move forward. For the one who rises from death takes us with him into his baptism, into his resurrection, into his life, and so to his Father where we are met by the Spirit’s descent upon us and by our Father’s words: in my Son you are beloved, with you I am well pleased. We are signed with the Cross and marked as God’s own; called to live in obedience as Christ did and held accountable for our words and our actions as they stand in His light.
Zara will come to learn that to have been baptized is not a free pass to do as we please; it is the freedom to do that for which we were created: to love God and our neighbor. It is the freedom to give to others as Mary did when she anointed Jesus feet with oil and wiped them with her hair, or as the widow did in giving her only two coins. It is the freedom to give to God everything that we have because we no longer have to fear death, sickness, loss, or being alone. We have been given new life in our baptisms and a community to support and uphold us. Let us welcome young Zara into this life and community and pray that she finds herself surrounded by God’s presence all her life. AMEN