Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
We are fortunate enough, this morning, to bear witness and participate in the second half of a liturgy begun 24 hours ago. Yesterday morning was the funeral and memorial service for Edith Angel, and this morning we, as a community, are going to baptize Henry Jordan, Edith’s great-grandson, into the death and resurrection of her lord and our’s.
We’re joining a liturgy already in progress, we’re rehashing what happened yesterday, because baptism and burial are, in essence, essentially, the same, or at least they’re two sides of the same sacramental coin. The words we say, the symbols used, the white garment, the fire, everything we do in these liturgies shows us that they are both getting at something Paul says in Philippians this morning, getting at the essential truth at the heart of everything we believe: we have been made Christ’s own. We ARE Christ’s own.
In the Anglican tradition, the tradition in which we squarely sit, our tradition, we believe that the sacraments are outward, visible signs of an inward, invisible grace. They’re signs pointing to the grace that’s already there. In the epistle this morning, Paul gives his laundry list of qualifications, his own list of outward, visible signs that point to…what? His abilities, his bona fides, his accolades and he counts them all as loss, rubbish, refuse, even. They’re nothing in comparison to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” And that’s what yesterday and today, our combined and continuing liturgies of burial and baptism, are all about.
Knowing Christ, being united with Christ, being Christ’s own, forever… THAT is the whole point of this life. Burial makes clear what we proclaim in baptism: that our lives are not our own, they are Christ’s own. Burial is the consummation of the promise made in baptism: the promise Christ made in John 10 that Alan referenced last week, that Christ came to give us life, and give it abundantly, a life only he could give, because it’s HIS life to give. It’s not a life we can or could build on our own by being whatever our equivalent of Paul’s “Hebrew of born of hebrews,” or “a pharisee under the law” but something that is the free gift of grace, made possible in our covenant with Christ, forged in his blood; We are Christ’s own.
In baptism we become members of the family, of the household of God, and this morning we see members of a family by blood become members of a family by water and the spirit, God’s family. We know the phrase, “blood is thicker than water,” and there is something to that, absolutely, but there’s another, longer, slightly different conception of that phrase that may or may not have more historical roots, that reads “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and I think that version reveals to us a truth about baptism. The blood of the covenant, our covenant, the blood that makes us Christ’s own by baptizing us into His death and resurrected life, IS Christ’s own blood. In baptism we cease to be our own and we become Christ’s own; we die his death and we are raised to this new life, HIS new life, with a new family, even as we walk this new life with our family of origin.
And this is why, at the end of our earthly journeys we say in the burial rite, that “even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Because we are Christ’s own. Because it’s not on us to make us new. Because it’s not our job to save ourselves. Because it’s not up to death to have the final word, that’s God’s job. The Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has a line that has shaped my thinking around death more than just about anything, where he says “For the Christian, death is no longer the final horizon, God is.”
At our burial, we approach death knowing with a full confidence that God is beyond that death that we die, and at our baptisms, we begin the slow trek of eternal, abundant life toward that horizon where death no longer reigns, no longer has dominion. In our baptisms, we begin our journeys to that final horizon where God is, to that horizon that IS God, where there is no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears, no more death, and where eternal life is found.