I used to be an avid fisherman. I say “used to be” because it has been a long time since I’ve done any fishing at all. Recently, I had to remove my fishing gear from its storage place. While I was moving all of the various bits and pieces I had time to look at the stuff I’ve collected over the years. I was surprised to see how old and worn that fishing tackle had become. The shirts and jackets and pants looked like they belonged in the recycling bin. The rod cases were dirty and frayed. Everything had a slightly care-worn patina.
I am certain that all of that stuff was new when I bought it. I was a little shocked when I realized how long ago that was. Then, it occurred to me that if the fishing gear was old, it must also be the case that the fisherman has grown old and worn. It shouldn’t be the case that beloved people and things grow old and fail. The world just shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
The Scripture readings for tonight’s Vigil begin by recounting the Creation story, the time when the world was new and bright. From there, the Scriptures move into the tired history of sin, and the separation from God that results from sin. From the spirit breathing on the waters at the dawn of creation (Genesis 1:1-2), to God’s complaint about the unrighteousness of those who made a mockery of the Covenant (Ezekiel 36:18), we see a clear depiction of the sad state of the world. At the same time, we have a vague and uncomfortable feeling that it shouldn’t be that way at all.
There are two possible truths about the world and everyone in it. Each of the possible truths can describe the entirety of a person’s life, but only one of the possible truths can be true at a time; they are mutually exclusive. The first possible truth is the one that is self-evident: the world, and everyone in it, shouldn’t be the way they are.
We’ve all known people about whom it is evident that they shouldn’t be the way they are: they shouldn’t be married, or they shouldn’t be in a particular profession. I’ve known a few people who shouldn’t have been allowed to roam free in public. At a previous parish assignment I used to stare in wonderment at the people who would park in the entrance and exit driveways to the church parking lot. Evidently, they had pressing engagements after church that made a quick escape necessary.
They were so pressed for time that they would block the driveways with their parked cars. I was certain that the very same people would complain bitterly if they had an emergency situation at church, needed an ambulance, but could not get the care they needed because of the cars blocking the driveways. Those folks believed they had very good reasons for their bad behavior, but the truth is: they were fortunate to have survived as long as they had.
The tragedies that happen from time to time shouldn’t happen, but they do; many people do what they shouldn’t do, but that doesn’t seem to deter them. This is an unalterable truth about the world in which we live. Yet, there is another possible truth that can apply to the world and its inhabitants. Some people struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds, and never give in to discouragement or compromise. Some people happily go out of their way for the sake of others. Some people accept their burdened lives, and make something beautiful from their burdens; they find Grace for a life that would otherwise be shallow or empty or tragic.
These two truths about the world are mutually exclusive; only one of them can be true in a person’s life: either it shouldn’t be that way or someone found redemption for a difficult situation. The first of those truths is the natural state of the universe; the second is the result of God’s Grace, specifically, the grace of the Resurrection. Resurrection is liberation from what shouldn’t be, and Baptism is our entrance into the mystery and promise of resurrection.
The Sacrament of Baptism isn’t a social custom or a cultural practice. Neither is it insurance against some potential spiritual loss. Baptism isn’t to be taken lightly, whether it is one’s own or one’s child’s Baptism under discussion. Further, Baptism is always in need of renewal. Baptism is what makes possible the second truth about existence; Baptism gives us a share in Jesus’ resurrection.
In a short while, four members of our parish community will leave behind lives weighed down by the limitations of this world, and enter into the new life of Baptism. They have prepared diligently for months in order to come to this moment because they know things aren’t the way they should be. Our parish community has the privilege and blessing of helping these Elect take a life-changing step toward new life in Jesus’ resurrection.
That resurrected life, however, happens only for those who take Baptism seriously, and renew their Baptismal commitment on a regular basis. Our Sunday celebration of Eucharist is the necessary renewal of Baptism that keeps us on our way toward the Resurrection. Annually, on Easter, we repeat our Baptismal vows as a reminder of what should be.
One of the two possible truths about the world is true about each person here: either you shouldn’t be that way or you’ve found Grace in a life that would otherwise be shallow or empty or tragic. If the first one is true, it can be changed. If the second is true, you have the opportunity to enter more profoundly into the mystery of redemption. The radical transformation from what is to what should be begins with the promises of faith that we make this night.