Friday, February 15, 2013

Mark's thoughts: Lent - A baptismal season

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the season of Lent.  Lent is a season of repentance and renewed catechesis.  This means that Lent is a baptismal season.  It is a time in which we return to our baptism and what it means for us. 

The background of Lent in the Church’s history is found in two different activities that occurred during the weeks before Easter.  The first was the process by which repentant sinners were received back into the fellowship of the congregation.  This theme of repentance continues to be a major focus of Lent.  As we prepare to observe our Lord’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, we place renewed emphasis on need for repentance in our own lives.  We examine our lives and confess the sin that is present in them in preparation for the celebration of forgiveness won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second background of Lent was the process of catechesis by which catechumens were prepared for entrance into the Church through Holy Baptism.  The time leading up to the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday when the baptisms took place was a period of intense instruction for the catechumens as they learned about the faith (for a brief description of these two activities see Lent: The Season of Repentance and Catechesis)

As we begin Lent once again, it is helpful to ponder the fact that both of these activities are baptismal – they are grounded in God’s gift of Holy Baptism.  St. Paul teaches us that in Holy Baptism, we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ the risen One.  He writes in Romans 6:1-11:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul tells us that through Holy Baptism we have been linked to the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have been joined with Jesus Christ the crucified and risen One.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, the power of Christ’s resurrection life is already present in us.  We go forth to live in newness of life as people who have been set free from sin.

Yet we also recognize that until we die or our Lord returns, we remain fallen people living in a fallen world.  The old Adam within us continues to drag us back into sin.  And so our life is a continual return to baptism.  As the Small Catechism says, baptizing with water in “indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  We return in faith to the gift God has given to us in Holy Baptism as we find there assurance of forgiveness and the power for the new man to come forth.

We do this daily in repentance.  However, Lent is unique in that during this time a whole season of the Church year leads us in this movement through repentance and back to baptism.  During Lent we examine our lives and confess our sins as we repent.  Ash Wednesday begins the season with a strong note of confession and repentance.  And then the rest of Lent moves us in a return to Holy Baptism.  It leads us to the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday in which the service is a celebration and renewal of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The season of Lent leads us in a return to baptism.  And as we walk this path we also emphasize catechesis – ongoing formation in the faith.  From the beginning, catechesis and Holy Baptism have gone hand in hand.  When Jesus instituted Holy Baptism He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  As we return to baptism during Lent, we also return to renewed catechesis.  We seek to learn more about the Christian faith that we confess and live.

Lent is a time of repentance and renewed catechesis.  And this fact means that Lent is a baptismal season.  It is a return to baptism as we walk towards the first service of the resurrection, the Vigil of Easter.  We prepare to rejoice that through baptism we have shared in Christ’s death, and therefore we will also share in the event that we celebrate on Easter – the resurrection of our Lord.

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