Longing for Immortality
All people, everywhere, and of every time, long for immortality. The ancient Egyptians used special ointments and wrapped bodies in cloth making them mummies hoping that if they could keep the flesh from rotting they could provide immortality. The ancient Romans made immortality part of the politics of the state declaring that the Emperor was an immortal god and therefore should be obeyed by mere mortals. (On his deathbed the Emperor Tiberius, the same emperor ruling when Jesus died, sarcastically said, "I think I am becoming a god.") In modern history the wealthy have looked for immortality by granting huge bequests to construct museums, and other buildings named after themselves. Others look for immortality, as the ancients did, in sports. There are even people who take cryogenics seriously. They have their bodies or their heads frozen immediately after they die. They figure that when a cure for death is found, they can be defrosted and live forever, even though their teeth might be chattering for all eternity.
If you go through ancient Rome, you will come upon two distinctive sets of tombstones. There are those of the pagan Romans with words on them such as "Farewell" or "Nevermore." Then there are the other tombs, those in the catacombs, the tombs of the departed Christians. These tombs have inscriptions such as "Until we meet again." and "Alive in the Lord." Christians have been given that which people for ages have longed for: immortality.
"Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united to him by likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection. If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him."
This passage is taken from the first New Testament reading proclaimed at the Easter Vigil, from Paul's letter to the Romans. Jesus did something the world had never seen. He totally emptied himself of his own needs. He lived completely for others. He died for others. He never allowed selfishness to have any part of his existence. This lifestyle resulted in his death at the hands of those who could not bear his holiness. But the result of his death was a transformation of reality. He was raised up. And those who would join him in the gift of themselves to God through others, would also be raised up.
Immortality. That's what Easter is about. Immortality was granted through the death of Christ to those who lived the Life of Christ.
The symbol of this eternal life is the sacrament of Baptism. When we are baptized, we die. Symbolically, we drown. Whether we are fully immersed or whether water is just poured over our heads, the symbol is that we die to a world without the Lord, and, rising out of the water, out of death, out of the tomb, we live in a world permeated with the reality of the spiritual. We die to a pagan world of selfishness. We live in a Christian world of sacrifice.
That is why being a Christian is not always easy. Being a Christian means living with a completely different perspective of life than that of the world around us. It means emptying ourselves of our need for self gratification. Being a Christian demands that we put God first. It demands that we approach God through those around us, our immediate families first.
Being a Christian demands that we do everything we can to fight off selfishness. This means death, the death of selfishness, the death of greed, the death of egocentricity.
"We who were baptized were baptized into the death of Christ."
The cross of Christ is our reminder of the distinctive life we accepted at our baptism. By dying as Christ died, by living our baptism, we receive immortality. The life of God has entered us!! We have been transformed! We live in the Lord!
His resurrection is a sign that we also live forever. We light that Paschal candle at Baptisms and Funerals as a symbol that through baptism the life of Christ is given to us, and that even at death, the life of Christ remains in us, uniting us to his Father through his Spirit.
Baptism is the Easter sacrament, the sacrament of our personal participation in Easter. It is the sign of our death and the sign of our life. Baptism is the sign of our interaction in the mystery of Jesus. It is the sign of Jesus' action in the mystery of our lives.
Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead!!
And so are we!
"Are you not aware that when you were baptized you were baptized into the death of Jesus Christ?"
Our lives have meaning, and purpose and beauty because we are not satisfied with the shallow existence of materialism and self-gratification.
He has called us out of this darkness and death and given every one of us the ability to make his presence real for others. If we just allow God to work through us, if we just strive to be that unique reflection of his love he created each of us to be, then we will come out of the tomb and live eternally.
Alleluia, alleluia! Reality has been transformed. Those who have died to selfishness have received immortality.
We live the Life of Christ!
As the sun rises in the East to begin a new day, may this Easter, the celebration of the transformation of the world, bring us all a new commitment to living the death and life of Jesus in our own lives. Happy and Blessed Easter from the People of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Tarpon Springs, FL!