Over the next days and weeks we will be hearing resurrection and
post-resurrection accounts. For this night I thought I would shift
my attention to the Vigil’s reading from Romans. While it isn’t a
resurrection account, in reality, all Paul writes is in light of the
resurrection and Jesus’ gift of the Spirit to his disciples. Paul
proclaims and then elaborates on the consequences of Jesus’ death
and resurrection for those who have been united with Christ through
He tells us that through baptism we are no longer "in slavery to
sin." Slaves cannot do what they wish, but must do what the
master/mistress commands. Baptism has begun a life-altering shift in
our lives. Paul knows that laying down more laws and regulations
will not bring about new life for us; it didn’t in the past and it
can’t now. He reminds us, and our past testifies, we are subject to
sin’s powerful influence on our lives – in big and small ways. A
brief survey of this past week will reveal how sin has influenced
our thoughts and deeds. On our own we cannot save ourselves from
such a powerful and often subtle force.
He explains that when we were engulfed by the waters of baptism
we were buried with Christ in death. When we emerged from the waters
we were, "resurrected with Christ and to new life." He does not want
us to put aside this new life and return to our old ways under the
slavery of sin. "We know our old self was crucified with him." How
appropriate for Paul to use this reminder of the cross. It is not
only a reminder of Jesus’ painful death, but a reminder to
Christians that to accept Christ’s way of life means to accept the
way of the cross – spending ourselves, as Jesus did, for our
neighbor in acts of kindness and self-offering. The way fo the cross
is the way of new life for us.
Jesus’ resurrection is a Passover. The Passover for the Jews was
God’s deliverance from oppression and death in Egypt to the promised
land. Passover remembers and celebrates that gift of liberation.
Jesus’ work is understood in the context of the Passover, for he has
delivered us from the oppression of sin and failure to new life
through the passage of baptism. We are "dead to sin and living for
God in Christ Jesus."
We are no longer under the captivity of sin. With Jesus our old
self has been put to death. Through God’s grace, the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ has destroyed the power of sin over
those who have been baptized. In effect, sin has been made
powerless. Paul isn’t just speaking about individual sins. He views
sin as an alien power, like death, that has dominion over human
beings. Sin infects our social and political lives; our family bonds
and our church as well. No, Paul is not just speaking of a person’s
sins, but of the corruption of all humanity, since the days of Adam
and Eve. We might say it’s in our DNA.
On our own, we humans are not able to choose not to sin. We are
helpless. But God has opened the way for us through Jesus Christ’s
death and resurrection. In other words, sin has been put to death on
the cross ("our old self was crucified with him") and we have new
life, free from sin’s power. Jesus has stood in for us all and sin
has died on the cross with him. "For if we had grown into union with
him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in
This new life was begun in us in baptism. As a result, our lives
can demonstrate freedom from sin’s power and show the fruits of the
resurrection in our lives. Christ has been raised from the dead, if
he hasn’t, then we would all be left on our own, subject to our old
enemies sin and death. Paul uses his usual strong images to get his
message across. Those baptized into Christ have been "buried with
him." We are united with him in his death, but also in his
resurrection. Christ "raised from the dead, dies no more." The same
for us: we died with him and now we are "living for God in Christ
After reflecting on what a text is saying I like to ask, "So
what? What difference does it make in our lives?" Paul invites us to
let go of any claim and ambition to the world’s powers, wealth,
corrupt systems and standards by which we measure our lives. Even
religious people are prone to this temptation and tend to measure
our success as Christians by the numbers we attract, the finances we
receive and, how our religion makes us feel.
This perspective ignores the implications of what it means to
"die with Christ." Not only do we reap the benefits of his death:
Christians are also called to die with Christ and then rise with
him. This is the full implication of Easter: we are to take up the
cross and follow Christ. The cross has meant forgiveness and
resurrection for us; but Christian discipleship also means
sacrifice. We look over the landscape of our lives and ask, "Where
am I being asked to sacrifice my life for the good of others?" Label
those places, "My cross." But also name them, "The cross of Christ"
and know that in those places Christ accompanies us and opens a path
of new life. Isn’t that the core of this Easter celebration – from
death comes new life?
It is appropriate at the Vigil service that we symbolize what
Christ has done for us by blessing and then bringing the lighted
Paschal candle into the darkened church. Without Christ our world is
governed by the powers of darkness. But Christ has entered our dark
world with his light. When the lighted Christ candle enters our
darkened church worshipers at the vigil will bring their tapers to
the candle and then pass the light throughout the community. It is
dark without Christ, by his light we can see– Christ in our
neighbors, Christ in ourselves. We are illumined by the light of
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
women] returned from the tomb and announced
these things to the eleven
to all the others."
The women, are the first in the line of the baptized called to be
bearers of the good news: "Jesus Christ is risen from the dead." The
women, the eleven apostles and "all the others" heard the Good News.
Then they went out to proclaim it to all the world. Now we, "all the
others," are called to do the same.
So we ask ourselves:
- What is new about my faith this Easter?
- How do I plan to share it with others?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Wade Cole #0082151 (On death row since 6/14/94)
- Alden Harden #0166056 (8/12/94)
- William Gregory #0156529 (8/15/94)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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