April 18, 1992Gen 22: 1-18
Ex 14: 15—15: 1
Rom 6: 3-11
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.
Since most of us Maryland SDBs are celebrating the Vigil at the National Shrine tonite, I offer a "golden oldie."
How much did Abraham love God? You can’t say it more emphatically than the story of Genesis does, the story of how he was willing to give God his son. The story is more powerful when we remember that this son, Isaac, was the son of Abraham’s old age, the son promised to him by God, the son thru whom his descendants would be numbered like the sands of the seashore or the stars of the sky.
The sacrifice of Isaac
(mosaic, National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington)
The Church presents this story to us as one of the possible readings on this holy night in order to show us how much God loves us. Abraham “did not withhold his own beloved son” (cf. Gen 22:12), and neither has God. God did indeed give his only Son to us, and we made him, like Isaac, carry the wood of his sacrifice up a hill. Like Isaac, Jesus willingly accepted whatever his Father willed.
Abraham is like God the Father in the love he reveals. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not spare his own Son but he gave him up for us all; will he not give us all things with the Son? In all things we are more than conquerors thru him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, not life, … nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:31-32,37-39). Abraham, ready to sacrifice his beloved son, reminds us that God did sacrifice his beloved Son for us. Isaac, who was saved from death by God’s intervention, reminds us of Christ, who was saved from death by God’s power. It is that power, and the glory of God’s immortal Son, that we celebrate tonight.
The critical or central Old Testament reading, however, is the exodus story. God saved his people by leading them thru the Red Sea; in the waters of the Red Sea he destroyed their foes. Recent studies by 2 oceanographers have shown how this historical event could have occurred. Even if there is a good scientific explanation, the timing still makes the crossing of the Red Sea a miraculous delivery of the Chosen People.
They were saved thru the water. Thru indicates both a location, as in “I-95 passes thru Bridgeport,” and a means, as in “Government funds programs thru taxation.”
This story of the Hebrews’ salvation is central to the Easter liturgy because it prefigures our salvation. We too are saved thru water—thru the waters of Baptism. As we pass thru the baptismal water—the richest sacramental symbol would have us baptized by immersion, not by a few drops poured onto our heads—as we pass thru the water, God delivers us. We pass thru to the safety of Christ’s grace, of becoming God’s children; and in the waters the power of Satan our foe is destroyed.
After they had crossed the Red Sea, the Hebrews were ready to enter God’s new covenant with them and to receive the Law at Mt. Sinai. By Baptism we have entered God’s final covenant and have received Christ’s law of universal love.
If we had anyone to baptize tonight, that would be the highlight of our Easter celebration: a new disciple being born into the life of Christ and his Church. We don’t, but we will solemnly commemorate our own Baptisms by blessing the water, renewing our baptismal commitment to Christ, and being sprinkled with the holy water.
What does our Baptism mean? The water, of course, is a sign of cleansing; a sign so powerful that by Christ’s grace it performs what it symbolizes. Baptism cleanses us of sin.
St. Paul speaks in tonight’s epistle of being baptized into Christ’s death (Rom 6:3,6). On the cross Christ put sin to death, and in Baptism we make a permanent renunciation of sin—by dying to ourselves, dying to the world, the flesh, and the devil—so as to live for God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11).
In Baptism we die with Christ: we are swallowed by the waters, especially if immersion is used, as Christ was swallowed by the grave; we rise from the waters to grace as Christ rose to eternal life and a glorious place at God’s right hand.
Baptism means for us the present reality of being God’s children. For the future it means union with Christ in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:5). Christ, once raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more power over him (Rom 6:9), nor can sin ever touch him. Even so shall it be for us. “Our perishable nature will put on the imperishable; our mortal nature will put on immortality. And then shall come to pass what Scripture says: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ The sting of death is sin…. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory thru our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 15:53-57).