Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Love Story week 14: new life

For we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory the Father, so we too might be raised to walk in the newness of life.
- Romans 6:4

When I was growing up, our pastor said these words as he baptized people.  "Buried with him by baptism into death," he would say as he leaned them back under the water.  Lifting them up, he would proclaim, "Raised to walk in newness of life!"  As kids, we would snicker because we thought he was saying, "Raised to walk in nudeness of life."  We all wished someone would pop up out of the water—nude!  It never happened, but the thought of it was enough to shake us silly and get us shushed by disapproving adults nearby.  I've never seen a nude person come up out of the water, though some baptismal robes are startlingly thin when wet, and they should warn women about colored undergarments.  I did once see a woman's wig come off and float away when she came up out of the water.  She was a cancer survivor, so everyone applauded and she laughed, just glad to be alive—alive for now and alive forever.

Newness of life.  I think about those words every time I see someone baptized.  I thought about them on Sunday, Easter Sunday, when two women, sisters, were baptized in our service.  Newness of life.  What does it look like?   It looks like those sisters taking their first steps following Jesus.  It looks like the new engagement ring on my friend's finger and the glow in her face at lunch last Thursday.  It looks like the bride & groom turning to face the congregation this past Saturday evening.  It looks like the pink skin and tiny fingers of the new baby girl born to my friends last Wednesday.  It looks like the upturned faces of at least three women in our choir who survived breast cancer this year and stood up to sing praises on Easter Sunday.  It looks like my friend, shaken with grief, standing by her sister's graveside on Good Friday.  Her sister, who was alive here on earth last Friday and is now—unexpectedly but gloriously—alive in Heaven.  

Resurrection:  It means, literally, "to stand again."  In the Greek, anastasis.  To have the rug yanked from under you by unforeseen events, but find your footing.  To be blind-sighted by grief or joy or pain or love and make your way shakily into a new normal.  To be hurt and forgive.  To face change and make adjustments.  To not only survive, but thrive.  To leave behind and to become.

It shakes everything when God unveils newness of life.  What perfect timing that in Wednesday Bible study this week, we are learning to tell the story of the resurrection and Jesus' appearances to his followers afterward.  Every one of the them are stunned, shaken, confused, not sure what to believe, where to go next, whether to hide out.  All of them are getting their bearings, trying to stand again in God's new world.  Peter goes fishing.  When the world is strange and dangerous, the stablest place he knows is the sea.  And Jesus goes to find him there. To give Peter a chance to stand again.

Jesus is waiting by a fire.  The last time Peter saw Jesus, he was by a fire, and he failed his Master.  The rooster has crowed, the stone has rolled, and the world has turned upside down since then. Now, by the fire, Jesus asks three times, "Do you love me?"  Three times the chance to stand again, to say, "I do love you."  And to be given new life with a new assignment: "Take care of my people." 

Jesus told Peter that he would have his own work to do from God, and that it, too, would lead to death.  Looking over his shoulder at John, Peter asked, "What about him?" 

"What about him?" Jesus replied.  "Peter: You follow me."

It's so tempting to compare paths, isn't it?  To ask, "What about him?" instead of standing up and following.  The truth is that newness of life will look different for each of us.  It will come in different ways and shake us and wake us and call us to become.  We are all becoming.  We are all being buried and raised, only at different times and in different ways.  We are all blinking in the light, shaky on resurrection legs, stammering, "Yes, I do love you!"

Newness, like nudeness, is shocking.  It's a shock to our systems to find that we can stand again, start again.  To be given a Next.  To be raised by the power of the One who calls that which was not into being.  It's shocking to be always becoming.  We come out of the water gasping and flailing like a newborn taking her first breath, gripping the one who plunged us under.  And this happens every single day.

Every day is an Easter.  Ready to stand again?  It's a new world, but we know the way:  "Follow me."

Click here to hear the story of Jesus' resurrection 
and Peter's chance to stand again
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to this week?

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