Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Indissoluable Bond": Our Beginning, Middle, End, and Ground

In a recent post on Holy Baptism, my friend, Dr Derek Olsen muses:
"Baptism is a beginning. It is the establishment of a new life in Christ. It is the gifting of the Holy Spirit, and the mystical union into Christ and the physically gathered community of believers. It is not the consummation and perfection of the life in Christ, but its start"
I want to begin some reflections that tease out a bit more from Derek's words to clarify somethings vital about our Baptismal rite.  This is just the first reflection.  More will be forthcoming.

In the words of F.D. Maurice, whose invisible hand guides much of the underlying baptismal theology of the 1979 Prayer Book and so much of baptismal theology in revisions throughout the Anglican Communion, "Baptism is the sacrament of constant union."

Maurice, who drew deeply on Luther and particularly John 1, reacted strongly against both Calvinistic Evangelical and budding Anglo-Catholic notions of his time that made of Baptism an event-back-there after which we either ever-worried about holding on to that faith in what we had received or tried to recover the superabundance of grace we received but that was ever-after lost by most because we do sin.

Rather, for Maurice, Baptism being our reception of God's covenant with us made once-for-all through, with, in, and as Jesus, is the the center and circumference, the orientation of our entire Christian life and existence, the faith and grace out of Whom we live (and hence, the ground for the sacramental practice of Reconciliation, etc. rather than means to try to, but never hold onto a necessary faith or recover a pristine state-of-grace).

Like John Wesley, at heart Maurice reinvigorates that catholic insight of justificatory grace found in St Paul and Luther. And he does so by placing it squarely at the heart of Holy Baptism not merely as propositional or a doctrine or a back-there-event, but as reception of Jesus' Personal union and relationship, and therefore, alive.

His revision is Christological, and makes Jesus' Person and work on our behalf in his once-for-all Incarnation primary, central, all-encompassing, and all-embracing.  This means that it is Jesus' faith and Jesus' grace we receive in the waters with the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus' faith and grace are without end and without limit. And so, these are not centrally up to us to hold on to or recover.  They are to us given...given...given...

What does this mean for us? It contains a vital shift in conceiving of our spirituality, our orientation in how we view, go about, make meaning of, participating in everything. Baptism is more than "a beginning" or "start." Baptism is our beginning, middle, end, and ground precisely because we receive (that is, we are reoriented out of being turned in upon ourselves toward this One and thus all things rather than remaining turned in on ourselves) this unity with Jesus Christ through Baptism, a unity Christ has already once for all made with us and all of creation in his Person through his humanity--by his totus Incarnation from conception to sending of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Pusey, Derek alludes to this shift. I would take it further.

In the words of the Prayer Book, Baptism is "indissoluable bond" (BCP, 298). The real and personal union with Jesus' Person through his crucified and resurrected and ascended (that is available to all), his divinized, humanity is received full and complete in Holy Baptism.

Again, thinking Christologically, in Holy Baptism, the fullness and completeness and perfection and consummation of Jesus is received by each of us once-for-always. Rather than being "a beginning" or "start" on which we build, Baptism is the fullness, completion, and the promise out of Whom we live and into Whom we are called to deepen daily, called to become, called to be really (here I think of St Augustine's Sermon 272), in this real and personal union. And this becoming, this being really is returned to again and again by our remembrance of our Baptism and nourished and strengthened by Holy Eucharist. 

Notice a subtle difference in feel? There is one. And it relates to a real danger that Luther and those of us like myself who struggle with scrupulosity know well, namely, a want to "getting it right" and to perfection that can make a real mess of us.

As Fr Bill Carroll once noted, "Anglicans are not anxious about our salvation." Precisely. Because salvation, that is union with God, is accomplished once-for-all in Jesus' Incarnation and received by us indissoluably in Holy Baptism, we can put worry about our salvation, that is our union with God, aside. That is not for us the issue now. The issue is deepening in relationship with the One who will not let us go (see Rom 8).  Another way of saying this is how is it that this Salvation will now work Himself out in us and with us?  How will that union be deepened in us?  And, how is it I am called to live our this union--which without our ever being able to see, deepens union?  Not, how can we achieve union.  We cannot.

In receiving Jesus in Baptism, we are personally united to Jesus' Person by means of his humanity, and out of this union and relationship we live and move and have our being, that is, we participate in the divine Life already and everywhere always at work in creation and general society, though oft hidden and even reviled.

In receiving this Life, we respond by taking up witnessing to this Life in the midst of all things, knowing we will often get it wrong, may even lose faith, may be anything but gracious.

Now, unlike my Lutheran kin who are shy about sanctification, as an Anglican, I am obliged to consider sanctification, sanctity, or theosis lest we, in the words of Drs Michael Aune and Carol Jacobson, think this an "eschaton collapse."

Note that our receiving this fullness is not the same thing as our living out of, becoming, being really, this fullness. This is partial to Derek's concern. We struggle with sin. We carry burdens. We die.

However, the feel and movement are different. Ours is non-anxious. Christ's is the grounding move.

So, unlike so many Christian spiritualities in relation to sanctity, ours is not anxiety ridden or anxiety driven, and is first of all, not grounded in our morality (important as this is) or our striving for union (God does this) or even our being sinners (for as Maurice reminds us, we are first Christ's "who came to his own").

Rather ours is rooted in union and relationship with God Who Is Love, Jesus' Person and his virtues (work), Who we received forevermore in public and visible sign and out of Whom we grow into Who we received.

There is something relaxed (see James Alison) about us that makes others wonder if we consider sanctity at all important; indeed, there is something worldly about Anglican sanctity that is distinctive from other Christian spiritualities.  And that is central to my point: Getting stuck on becoming holy--striving for union--is dangerous, even deadly to the soul.  

Rather, we are oriented out of Union, Jesus in Whom we are rooted and live. We ask ourselves how it is we are called to be Him for others and greet others as Him.

Jesus who is fullness moves toward us and Jesus who ascended so as to fill all things is quickened and sealed in us (that is in our hearts, our whole being) by our being baptized and we can and should ever turn to that fullness, that sealing (+), especially precisely because we do sin.

In such a reorientation, sin itself is redeemable and can be itself forgiven, redeemed, and even taken up to show and grow something of that fullness of Christ in us. Being able to confess becomes gifted, responsive faith as much as a praise psalm or creed.

And that means that sanctity can have about it a trial-and-error quality, a lived feel, even experimentation and "getting it wrong"(see James Alison) because Jesus is alive!  Because Jesus is alive, we can live life with all of the complexity that is for human beings.

That means sanctity can take shape for the times and the particularities of persons, which inevitably is more complex than our hagiographies allow.  That means that sanctity has a contemplative, a receptive character to it that can never be reduced by us anxious types to something we can "be good" and strive for. Sanctity is first and foremost, received and out of Whom we participate. And this shifts the contours of how we approach sanctity quite a bit.

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