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Lectionary Theology

2 December 19

The passage for this day is difficult, Let us first look at the scholastic commentary.

Then (v. 4) he proves that we are all baptized in conformity with the death of Christ, saying, we were buried with him by baptism into death. As if to say: Burial is only for the dead: “Let the dead bury their dead” (Mt 18:22).

By baptism, however, men are buried with Christ, i.e., conformed to his burial. For just as a buried man is put under the earth, so one being baptized is submerged under water. Hence, there are three immersions in baptism not only to indicate belief in the Trinity but also to represent the three days of Christ’s burial. And just as the three days of burial were one burial, so the triple immersion constitutes one baptism. That is also why solemn baptism is celebrated in the Church on Holy Saturday, when the burial of Christ is commemorated and on the vigil of Pentecost in honor of the Holy Spirit, from whom the water of baptism derives its power to cleanse: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Jn 3:5).

Yet it must be noted that in the body one dies before he is buried, but in the spiritual order the burial of baptism causes the death of sin, because the sacraments of the New Law bring about what they signify. Hence, since the burial which occurs through baptism is a sign of the death of sin, it produces such a death in the baptized. And this is what he says, namely, that we were buried into death, so that in receiving in ourselves the sign of Christ’s burial we might obtain death to sin.

Then (v. 4b) he infers the consequent, namely, that we should not live in sin. To this end he adduces a likeness to the resurrection of Christ, saying that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, i.e., by the Father’s power, whereby the Father himself is glorified: “let thy glory be over all the earth” (Ps 57:5), we too might walk in newness of life, i.e., advance in the spiritual life through good works. For the life of sin carries with it the weakness of old age, because it leads to dissolution: “What is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away”

Thomas Aquinas

On these points there is agreement.

He now begins to indicate the object of our having been baptized into the death of Christ, though he does not yet completely unfold it; and the object is — that we, being dead to ourselves, may become new creatures. He rightly makes a transition from a fellowship in death to a fellowship in life; for these two things are connected together by an indissoluble knot — that the old man is destroyed by the death of Christ, and that his resurrection brings righteousness, and renders us new creatures. And surely, since Christ has been given to us for life, to what purpose is it that we die with him except that we may rise to a better life? And hence for no other reason does he slay what is mortal in us, but that he may give us life again.

Let us know, that the Apostle does not simply exhort us to imitate Christ, as though he had said that the death of Christ is a pattern which all Christians are to follow; for no doubt he ascends higher, as he announces a doctrine, with which he connects, as it is evident, an exhortation; and his doctrine is this — that the death of Christ is efficacious to destroy and demolish the depravity of our flesh, and his resurrection, to effect the renovation of a better nature, and that by baptism we are admitted into a participation of this grace. This foundation being laid, Christians may very suitably be exhorted to strive to respond to their calling. Farther, it is not to the point to say, that this power is not apparent in all the baptized; for Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27.) Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence.

John Calvin

There is no question that we do sin, and that baptism does not make us immune to this. Which is why we need to account ourselves as dead to our temptations. We do not feed them. We ignore them. You cannot argue that this is a merely Reformed teaching: it is Catholic, and before that the church fathers, before that the apostles, and before that Christ.

Romans 6:1-11

6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Today’s advent song is an English Version of a Serbian Orthodox Hymn.

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