Summary: God loved us so much that He gave up His only begotten Son, as the blood-price of our justification. You and I first enter that covenant when we, or our parents and godparents, make covenant promises to God at our baptism.
Thursday of 5th Week in Lent 2014
The Gospel of John, more than the Synoptics, clearly states what the Church has always and everywhere taught–Jesus is the fleshly manifestation of the same God who made a covenant of love and fidelity with Abraham. Although Israel turned its back on that covenant of love, God never did. In fact, God paid the price of the violation of the covenant for the descendants of Abraham.
In the ancient Near East, covenants were deadly serious–literally. When Abraham swore what I call the middle covenant with God, he prepared some sacrificial animals by cutting them in half. Then he walked between them as he swore the covenant of faithfulness with God. Then God, in the form of a smoking, flaming barbeque pit (that’s the best way to describe it), also passed between the sacrificial animals. The meaning was clear: the price of violating the covenant would be to suffer the fate of those animals–to be cut in two and killed.
The reward for Abraham would be a vast nation of descendants, and the Promised Land. So when God asked Abraham to journey with his only son, Isaac, to the mountain of Moriah, and offer him as a holocaust, he was really asking Abraham how much he would give up for love of God. And Abraham proved worthy: he was ready to give up the promise of heirs and land if only he could keep his relationship with the one, true God. So God stayed Abraham’s hand and saved Abraham’s son, and then promised that if Abraham’s descendants violated the covenant, God himself would pay the ultimate price. So we read elsewhere in John that God loved us so much that He gave up His only begotten Son, as the blood-price of our justification. You and I first enter that covenant when we, or our parents and godparents, make covenant promises to God at our baptism. And that is what we will be celebrating in just ten days with our catechumens at the Paschal vigil.
The Popes acknowledge the power of the sacraments, and especially the special place of baptism, in the economy of salvation: “The transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in baptism. Some might think that baptism is merely a way of symbolizing the confession of faith, a pedagogical tool for those who require images and signs, while in itself ultimately unnecessary. An observation of Saint Paul about baptism reminds us that this is not the case. Paul states that “we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). In baptism we become a new creation and God’s adopted children. The Apostle goes on to say that Christians have been entrusted to a “standard of teaching” (týpos didachés), which they now obey from the heart (cf. Rom 6:17). In baptism we receive both a teaching to be professed and a specific way of life which demands the engagement of the whole person and sets us on the path to goodness. Those who are baptized are set in a new context, entrusted to a new environment, a new and shared way of acting, in the Church. Baptism makes us see, then, that faith is not the achievement of isolated individuals; it is not an act which someone can perform on his own, but rather something which must be received by entering into the ecclesial communion which transmits God’s gift. No one baptizes himself, just as no one comes into the world by himself. Baptism is something we receive.
“What are the elements of baptism which introduce us into this new “standard of teaching”? First, the name of the Trinity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — is invoked upon the catechumen. Thus, from the outset, a synthesis of the journey of faith is provided. The God who called Abraham and wished to be called his God, the God who revealed his name to Moses, the God who, in giving us his Son, revealed fully the mystery of his Name, now bestows upon the baptized a new filial identity. This is clearly seen in the act of baptism itself: immersion in water. Water is at once a symbol of death, inviting us to pass through self-conversion to a new and greater identity, and a symbol of life, of a womb in which we are reborn by following Christ in his new life. In this way, through immersion in water, baptism speaks to us of the incarnational structure of faith. Christ’s work penetrates the depths of our being and transforms us radically, making us adopted children of God and sharers in the divine nature. It thus modifies all our relationships, our place in this world and in the universe, and opens them to God’s own life of communion.” Let’s all pray intently for our catechumens, especially this weekend as they make their pre-baptismal retreat, preparing for their total commitment to Christ in His Church.