[Our midweek Lenten services this year feature a reading and sermon from one of the lessons of the Easter Vigil in addition to reading the Passion from St. Matthew; tonight's first reading, then, was Genesis 1]
Homily for Lenten Midweek One: The New Creation
Have you ever noticed the baptismal font? Ours is like those in most churches of Christendom. Most baptismal fonts are octagonal. They have eight sides. It is the meaning of those eight sides that we have the joy unlocking tonight; for believe it or not, the eight sides of the baptismal font point to a joyful reality about what God does in and through Baptism.
We heard it in the first reading. There we are told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and that the earth was formeless void and darkness was on the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. The creation at the beginning was water and the Spirit was there and from the water the Spirit brought life. And the time of the world was recorded there. Day one: light and darkness separated. Day two: waters above and below the firmament separated. Day three: land and waters separated. Day four: sun and moon and stars. Day five: waters team with life and the birds fly in the sky. Day six: animals created to fill the earth and mankind created as the crown of God’s creation. Day seven: God looked at it all and it was good, indeed, it was very good. Creation itself: time and space. All were filled with the joy and light of God’s love and care and it was exceedingly good.
Seven days. And so the time of man came to be divided into sevens. Seven days make a week. Six days of work, one day of rest. This is the “order” of the creation. Seven. And in that creation, whose number is seven, water played a key role. Not only did the world begin with water, but God made water itself to be the very life of all that lived; nothing could live without it. In the verses following our first reading, God creates a special home for mankind called the Garden of Eden or Paradise, and the first thing we learn about Paradise is that there was water there: a head water whose streams divided into four to water the whole earth. God planted mankind in a world made from water and gave him as a home a land through which a river flowed. You see, we really do need water. Without water we cannot live. We need to drink it, to take it into ourselves. We need to wash with it. We even seem to need to play in it. Water is very much the first element of God’s creation.
The Bible begins with such a story to remind us of our home and to evoke in us a homesickness, a desire for return. For is it not very clear that this good creation has fallen? Where before there was only life and the joy of communion with the Creator, now the creation itself has become filled with death, the inevitable consequence of our fall away from Him who is Life itself. And the seven days that mark our time in this world have about them a horrible finality. On one of those seven days, we will die. Time itself, the rythmic pattern of the repeating sevens, is like a river rushing us forward toward the moment of death. And death makes all of what has gone before meaningless: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation comes; that which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said: “See, this is new”? (Eccl. 1:2-3,9,10)
And yet into all of this intrudes our eight-sided baptismal font. And the eight is in every sense new. You see, in the fullness of time, the heavenly Father sent into this world His Son to rescue it from the vanity, to set it free from its endless sevens which mark only the passing of time toward death. There came the day when the Son of the heavenly Father began his great “Passage”, his Exodus, his Passover. It was on the sixth day of creation that God finished his labors of creation. It was on the seventh day he rested and blessed the seventh day. And so it is on the sixth day of creation, in the sixth day of our fallen ordinary time, on a Friday, that the Son of the Father finished his labors of redemption: nailed to a cross, forgiving the sin of the world. He announced the completion of his work of salvation: “It is finished!” And on the seventh day of creation, in the seventh day of ordinary time, on a Saturday, his body rested in a grave from his great work of redemption. But on the next day, which is both the first day of the week of our ordinary time and the eighth day of a new creation, the Son of the Father who had tasted death for us and for us had rested in the grave was for us raised into a life that never ends. He stood alive again outside the tomb: he had passed from suffering and death into everlasting life; had made a Passage, an Exodus, a Passover for us! The writer of Ecclesiastes had asked: “Is there anything of which it may be said: See, this is new?” We answer with joy: YES!!! Christ is risen from the dead and death is undone! He has ushered in a new age, a new time, a new day. The eighth day, the day of the new creation. The picture of the Day that knows no evening in the kingdom of the Father.
When you were baptized you were put into that eighth day. The eight sides of the Baptismal font stand before you as a permanent witness that you have been made a new creation! Listen to how St. Paul expresses this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ... for He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:17-18, 21)
As at the beginning, the Spirit moved over the water and brought life into being: so when you were baptized, the Spirit moved over the water and by the power of God’s almighty Word you were given a new birth, a new beginning. You were carried with Christ through his death and burial and resurrection into the joy of new life. Your sins forgiven, fogotten, and gone. That is the “old” that has passed away. And a new life was reached out to you: a life that is none other than Christ’s own life: a life of “yes” to the will of the Father, a life of love and joy and peace. Jesus said: “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” By water and the Spirit you have been given entrance already into this Kingdom!
But you must see that this new life is not something that was given to you only once. No! Baptism means that you are a new creation every day. Never “I was baptized.” Always “I am baptized.” As often as you fall away from your baptism, as often as you sink back into the old frustrations of the endless sevens and forget to live by the joy of the eighth day, God calls on you to repent and return. And when you return by faith to your baptism, you are again recreated, new and whole. Sparkling and shining with the glory of Christ himself.
Eight sides. One for each day and the eighth side is for the eighth day, the day beyond time, beyond this fallen creation, the day of the new creation, the day of the resurrection of Jesus, the day of your baptism into him, the day of your new life. “Behold, I make all things new!” You are included in that. Forever! Amen.