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Easter: renewal of our baptismal identity and mission

By Tom Ryan, CSP


Liturgists like to remind us that the spirit of Lent is much better captured by the pouring of water at Easter baptisms than by the burning of palms on Ash Wednesday. Indeed, the origin, goal and meaning of the Forty Days of Lent are discovered by gazing first on the Three Great Days now approaching us: the bread and wine of Holy Thursday, the cross of Good Friday, and the fire and water of the Easter Vigil. These Three Great Days — the Paschal Triduum — remind us that Lent is not a mere remembrance of our mortality or a brief period of induced penitence.

Rather, it is a time of deepening and renewal of our own baptismal identity and mission, and a communal preparation for the baptismal celebration that is Easter’s Vigil.

In short, the lenten season is about baptismal remembrance. The Three Great Days are about renewal and celebration of our baptismal identity. And the soon-to-come 50 days of the Easter season are about our common baptismal mission to the world.

As the catechumens approach their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the rest of us who have been supporting them on their journey by praying and fasting along with them, we also prepare to renew our baptismal promises at Easter, perhaps celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation as part of our preparation.

Appropriately, the season of Lent began with a baptismal gesture. When we were baptized, the priest and parents and godparents traced a cross on our forehead. And on Ash Wednesday, someone once again traced a cross on our foreheads with ashes and said, “Repent, and believe in the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ,” reminding us that in our birth, our life, and our death, we have been consecrated to and belong to the Lord.

Through baptism, we’re freed from sin and reborn, adopted as sons and daughters of God. That’s one of those cliché phrases that after awhile one comes to take for granted. But think of it: adopted as sons and daughters of God — partakers of the divine nature; a member of Christ’s mystical body, the church; and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Has your journey through this lenten season deepened your appropriation of this baptismal identity? Growing our faith is never over until it’s over! It is for this reason that at the Easter Vigil, we are called to a renewal of our baptismal promises and a rededication to our baptismal mission to be a light for those whose lives we touch.

The Three Great Days

There’s no better way to cross the finish line of Lent than by entering into the celebration of the Paschal Mystery at the heart of Easter that extends across the Three Great Days from Holy Thursday night through Good Friday and the Easter Vigil of Saturday night into the day of the Lord’s resurrection, Sunday. The Triduum is like three movements in one great concert, one extended celebration of the Easter mystery of passing over through death to new life.

The Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ lies at the very centre of Christian faith and discipleship. The word “paschal” comes from the Greek term pascha, which goes back to the Hebrew pesach, referring to the annual commemoration by the Israelites of their liberating Passover from slavery in Egypt. The Paschal Mystery is intended to pick up for Christians this rich Hebrew background and to locate the historical death and resurrection of Jesus as the establishment of a new, liberating Passover. The followers of Jesus are invited to experience the effects of this new paschal reality in their own lives.

When we probe the life of Jesus, we discover that it is animated by the presence of a powerful paradox — the paradox of finding life through death, and of losing one’s life to save one’s life. It is through the death of Jesus on the cross that the fullness of new life in the resurrection comes. This was ritualized in our baptism. Immersion in the water symbolized our communion with Christ’s death and burial, and our rising from the water our renewal and resurrection.

Whenever we are faced in any way, then, with a form of “dying” or letting go, the Paschal Mystery of Christ is there to shape our perception of what is happening and to give an affirming stamp to our hope that out of this “death” will come new life and growth. In relationships of friendship and love, people do “die” for the sake of each other. Spouses give themselves in costly love and parents sacrifice themselves out of love for their children. Friends make themselves available to serve each other’s good in sometimes heroic ways.

When we, like Jesus, are available for service in love at the cost of personal sacrifice, the very act of living is a share in the dying-and-rising of Christ. Death and resurrection are not separate from life nor to be seen as just end-of-life experiences. They are not final events but daily choices. Every “letting go” is a little dying. One illustration of it is seen in our struggle to let go of yesterday, of the past. Whether it’s turning 30, 50, 65 or 90. Whether it’s losing our health or our hair, our money or our memory, a person we love or a possession we prize.

Living the Paschal Mystery in daily life is letting go with faith and trust of where our security once lay. Whether it’s being retired, divorced or disabled. Whether it’s a change of life or a change of pace. Wherever or whatever or with whomever we’ve been, we cannot cling to what once was but is no more. We have to move on, and all moving on is a dying, a letting go. It’s the imprint of the Paschal Mystery on our lives. Only by dying will we rise to fresh life. Only by letting go of yesterday will we open ourselves to tomorrow where the seeds of fresh life await us.

Let your participation in the Easter celebration of the Three Great Days deepen your faith and trust that every exit is only an entry into something new. So open your hands to receive the gift of fresh life that awaits you. Let the great Fifty Days of the Easter Season extend the intense theme of passing over through death to new life, making the Paschal Mystery available to savour and celebrate through the symbols and sounds of Easter: the tall paschal candle that burns at every mass, the alleluias sounded throughout the liturgy, the Easter songs that fill the parish church, and story after story from Scripture that proclaims the life-giving reality of the resurrection.

Let it all deepen your baptismal identity and your baptismal mission to bring faith and hope, light and love to the little world under your feet and within your reach.

Ryan directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.