|27 - First Sunday of Great Lent, March 8, 2009|
Hebrews 11:24 – 6; 32 – 12:2
John 1:43 – 51
This morning we receive Aidric Daniel into the Church through Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation and we commemorate the restoration of icons in Christian worship in the 8th and 9th centuries. Let’s look at the theology of the Icon this morning to illumine the theology of Baptism and to explain why the Church from the beginning has baptized infants.
The Scriptures say that man was created male and female in the image or in the Icon of God. St Paul teaches us that the Icon of God is Christ Jesus in whom all things were created. Note how man and the world never existed outside of Christ. All things were created in Christ; man came to be, he was conceived, if you will, not outside of but in Christ.
Now, the Church is the body of Christ. When the Church baptizes infants, Christ himself is raising them up from death to life and making them to exist in his own body, in himself. He is refashioning them in his own Image as he did in the beginning. So especially when the Church baptizes infants, who are at the beginning of their life, we see most clearly the biblical teaching: what is most natural to us is to exist in God because man was brought into existence in Christ, in the Icon of God.
God is love, writes St John. He is love precisely because he is not an impersonal Monad but a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A Person is a lover. The Person of the Son of God came into the world out of his love for mankind to deliver us from death and to restore us to what is natural to us: personal communion with God in love. A Person offers himself in love for the other as Christ offered himself to the Father for us, for the purpose, as St Paul writes, that we, though many, might become one body in the love of God and become each one members of one another.
In the Church, then, we are not alone; we are not each one in our own world. We are members one of another, united to one another as members of the one body of Christ in the love of God, commending ourselves and each other to Christ our God on behalf of all and for all. Especially when we baptize infants is this personal character of the love of the Church, in which we do not stand alone before God but as members one of another in the one body of Christ, made manifest.
When a child is born, precisely because the child is not able to say yes, we stand before God on his behalf; we put ourselves in his place; we hold him in our arms, itself a kind of icon that shows he is not off by himself; he is a member of us as we are of him in the one body of Christ, and in this personal communion of love, we offer ourselves to God in love on his behalf. In this, we manifest the personal quality of the Church as the one body of the Person of Christ the Son of God, in whom all of us are united in the personal communion of God’s love to become members of one another, united to one another in the love of God that is in Christ.
In the Church, in Christ’s incarnate body, creation becomes sacramental; it becomes open to God. Every moment, every movement, every thing, is united to Christ by the descent of his Holy Spirit. The things of creation – both the visible things like wood and paint, stone and mortar, and the invisible things, like movements and gestures and the movement of time – become iconic, even sacramental. They become gates that open onto the Way of God, which is Christ, the better and changeless path that ascends by way of the Cross to God in the holy Resurrection of Christ.
This means that the liturgical rites of baptism take place in Christ, in the Icon of the invisible God. In Christ, they open us out onto God. Through the oil and water and the liturgical movements of baptism and Chrismation, we enter into the mystery of our being created in the Image of God, in Christ, and of our being re-created in Christ that Christ “finished” on the Cross. When we are clothed in the Robe of Light, we are clothed with the light of Christ as with a garment.
This brings me to my final point. Because a person is a lover, a person is fundamentally free, because love is love only when it is freely given and freely received. In love, God created man in Christ, his own Image or Icon. But man’s creation remained incomplete. That remains not with God but with man. It remains incomplete precisely because God creates in love; and love is not complete until it is returned. Man’s creation is not complete until man freely chooses to love God in return, and to become one body with him in love. The First Adam turned away from God and freely chose to love the things of the world. In the First Adam, creation remains incomplete. The Second Adam, Christ the Son of God, completed the creation when, as man, he was obedient in love to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross and so filled all things with himself.
And now Christ comes to us in his body, the Church, calling to us in his Resurrection to take up our cross and follow him into his New Creation that he finished on the Cross. In love this morning, we have offered Aidric Daniel to God in the mysteries of Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation. In love, Christ’s Holy Spirit has descended on the elements of oil and water and cleansed Aidric Daniel of Adam’s sin. In love, we will bring Aidric Daniel to the Holy Chalice. In love, Christ will give himself to Aidric Daniel as his food and drink, and Aidric will become a member of Christ’s body, the ecclesia: the communion of those “called out” from death to life. But his re-creation in Christ, as also ours, remains incomplete until we freely choose to take up our cross as Christ commands us and learn to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
You see, to believe in Christ or to accept him as one’s personal Savior is only the beginning of salvation. If we truly believe in Christ, if we truly accept him as our Savior, then we will do as he commands; and he commands us to take up our cross, and to take up the work of putting to death the old Adam in us. This is the work of love that we must do, and so it cannot be forced on us.
Because we are all members of one another in the one body of Christ’s holy Church, all of us are participating this morning in the baptism of Aidric Daniel. All of us are entering again into the mystery of Christ’s victory over death through the iconic quality of these sacramental mysteries of Christ’s holy Church. All of us are walking the better and changeless path that ascends to God in his holy Resurrection as we walk with Aidric from the far west of the Church, then “pass over” through the baptismal font in the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection, and then make our way to the East, like the Israelites making their way from the Red Sea to Canaan, to the Rising of the Sun, in order to partake of the crucified and risen Christ in Holy Eucharist, the Messianic Banquet of Christ’s Resurrection in the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. All of us stand this morning bathed in the Sunlight of God’s love. What remains for Aidric and for each of us, having found the true Faith, having received the Heavenly Spirit in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, having even walked today, through the iconographic quality of the Church’s sacramental rites, into the Resurrection of Christ, is freely to take up our cross and walk that path not just here but in our everyday life every day, every hour and every moment. May God help us and have mercy on us. Glory to Jesus Christ!