Annie was a precocious and adventurous six year old. In the back yard of her house was a big tree. It was a great tree for climbing. But Annie’s mother told her NOT to climb the tree. But one bright Saturday Annie was feeling particularly adventurous, and the tree beckoned so beguilingly, that Annie just started climbing up the tree. It was exciting, and the higher she climbed the more exciting it became. On she went till she reached as far as she could go. The view was breathtaking… until she looked down. All of a sudden she realized she was way up in the tree, a full 12 feet above the ground! She had never been so high up on her own before. She wanted to climb down but was paralyzed by the fear of slipping and falling. Without thinking she cried “Mommy!” “Daddy!”
After a short while her father came out of the house and over to the tree, looked up and said, “What are doing up there?” “I’m stuck” she sobbed. “It’s all right” said her Father. “Just let go and let me catch you.” “Huh?” said Annie. “Just let go and let me catch you” repeated her Father. “Un-uhh” said Annie, afraid to stay where she was, afraid to try to climb down, and afraid to let go and fall into her Father’s arms. “Don’t worry” said her Father, “I will catch you.”
In a way, Annie’s dilemma is the dilemma of all of us.
In our second reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are told “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” What does St. Paul mean? In our culture, we tend to think in practical, pragmatic, scientifically verifiable concrete facts. When we hear “death” we concretely think of cessation of heart beat, of flat EKG, or lack of brain waves, and other physical, concrete signs of the end of life. That is NOT at all what St. Paul is talking about. When he states that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death St. Paul is not talking about a physical, bodily reality, but rather a more profound spiritual reality.
To be baptized into Christ’s death is not about physical bodies, but rather about the manner and meaning, the spiritual import of Jesus’ death. What was the manner and meaning, the spiritual import and significance of Jesus’ death???
The Bible calls it “obedience.” This is not any kind of blind obedience, like a dog in obedience school, or military orders. This is rather a very conscious and free submission of will, made out of faith and love in the care and protection of another.
Basically, Jesus submitted His own will to the Will of the Father. Jesus let’s go of His own desires, in essence His own life, placing Himself entirely and trustingly into the Hands of His Loving Father. By accepting death on the Cross Jesus makes the ultimate leap of faith and abandons Himself totally and completely into the Father’s hands. And the Father catches Him in a loving embrace.
It is this meaning of the death of Christ Jesus that we have all been baptized into; that is, of letting go our own will to fall into the loving hands of Our Father and live His life. As St. Paul says: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
This has real consequences, St Paul points out, for how we are to live. “Consequently,” he states, “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
We come to life by dying to ourselves, our selfishness and self-centeredness, and rather, living for God. In the great Christian paradox, we find life by losing it. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
At the end of our lives each of us will be like Annie stuck up in the tree. ¿Will we go kicking and screaming, clutching with all our strength to the remaining threads and tatters of physical life? Or will we have learned and trained our hearts and wills over years of dying to self to live like Christ for God, to gracefully and peacefully let go, and fall safely and sweetly into the loving hands of Our Father?