Last week, I shared my friend’s observation that Lent can only ever be about two things: preparing for baptism and remembering your baptism. Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This week, Jesus’ responses to his temptations in the wilderness begin to show us what baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection is about. Or better, what it isn’t about. Evidently, Jesus isn’t going to convert playground gravel into bread and end world hunger; Jesus isn’t going to secure political power at any and all costs; and Jesus isn’t going to compel a following by supernatural displays. Instead, Jesus will be betrayed by his friends, befriended by a thief, crucified on a cross. Into this death and resurrection we are baptized.
The challenge as it lays out for us is articulated well in the prayer assigned to Fridays in the Morning Prayer liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
As Jesus says no to each of these three alternative kingships, we wonder what it will mean to follow a crucified King. So we pray that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.
The baptismal covenant means to structure our imagination for exactly this walk, the way of the cross. Last week I mentioned that we would do well to consider our Lenten disciples in light of our baptism. Today, on the first Sunday in Lent, I want to give us a few minutes to reflect in silence on the baptismal promises themselves, the five questions of practice that issue from the Christian’s “yes” to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You can find the questions on page 304 or on the back of the Scoop. Of each question, ask yourself, how do I understand this commitment? What would I like to understand more? What would one step forward in this particular commitment look like?
The invitation is to reflect on these things, to write down your thoughts, your prayers, your questions, your concrete hopes for the Christian life you are living. No one else will see them. But in a few minutes, we will collect them, and burn them as incense, invoking the tradition of the psalmist, who says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
May our prayer, lifted up as incense, in this season of Lent be the prayer of St. Paul: to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
St Francis House Homily, 2.17.12.