In today’s epistle reading from the Daily Office, the Apostle Paul says:
“For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6:5)
Now, in its context, this verse speaks specifically of baptism. Paul is underscoring that idea that “when we are buried with Christ through baptism into death” we can be confident that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, may live a new life.” However, given the kinds of things that Paul says in his other writings, I think it’s fairly clear that “being united with Christ in a death like his” means a whole lot more then engaging in the ritual of baptism.
During this Lenten season, my church family and I are sharing a message series that focuses on the traditional “Seven Last Words of Christ.” This weekend, we’ll be looking at the central statement in that list (the only statement, according to some gospels): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Of course, there’s an important sense in which we cannot (and, thanks to grace, need not) experience the same kind of God-forsakenness that Jesus faced on Calvary. But at the same time, I cannot help but ask: What would it mean for us to be “united with Christ in his death” when that union calls us to our own forms of forsakenness?
In answer, the passage that jumps to mind for me comes from the second chapter of Philippians, where Paul tells the church to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he emptied himself….” One element of the forsakenness that Jesus experienced on the cross, it seems to me, grew out of his willingness to lay aside his prerogatives (power, glory, relationship with the Father) for the sake of others.
What might it mean for us today to be “united with Christ in a death like his” when such union implies emptying ourselves for the sake of others? Are there sacrifices of time, or attention or money that we might be called upon to make? Are there prejudices and assumptions to which we need to die so that others can be treated with dignity and worth? Are there rights that we need to lay aside so that rather than being served, we can serve – and follow the Savior who allowed himself to be forsaken for us?
If we’re honest, these are not easy questions. But such union is the path that leads to resurrection life. Today, our prayers and our lives echo those of the Apostle Paul: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)