The Season of Lent originated as a period of intensive catechesis in preparation for Holy Baptism, which then took place at the Easter Vigil, in that hinge between the death and resurrection of Jesus.
By the Word and Spirit of God, this sacred Season still remains, also now for you, an embarking on the way of discipleship, which is to follow Christ Jesus up to Jerusalem.
Lent calls you to be baptized with the Baptism of Christ; or, if you are already baptized into Him, it calls you to remember and return to the significance of your Baptism. In either case, you are called to follow the Son of Man, this Lord Jesus Christ, on the way of His Cross, which is the way of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution.
What, then, is this Baptism to which you are called? It is the working of the New Creation by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, whereby the first creation is fulfilled and comes to fruition in you, according to the good and gracious will of God.
You are a new creature, a new man or woman, by your Baptism into Christ, because it first of all puts you to death and buries you with Christ, and then also raises you up and gives you new birth in His Resurrection from the dead. That is the labor and delivery that occurs, though hidden from your eyes, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, as it has been instituted by Christ Jesus, our Lord.
By the rite and ceremony of His Word and work in Holy Baptism, in the waters administered in His Name and at His divine command, you are crucified with Christ Jesus. For He has sanctified the waters of your Baptism with His own Baptism in the Jordan River, which He completed and perfected by His Cross and Passion in Jerusalem. He was baptized into His own death and burial, and that is why your Holy Baptism is a sharing or participation in His Crucifixion.
Not that you atone for anyone’s sins, not even your own; nor that you are given as a ransom for anyone’s life. But Jesus Himself has opened the way for you — through death and the grave into the resurrection and the life everlasting — so that now you follow after Him by faith in His Word. You follow Him — through the waters of Baptism — into the grace and glory of His Kingdom.
Thus are you cleansed and refreshed, inside and out, in body and soul, with the spiritual water from the Rock, who not only leads the way, but also follows after as your rear guard, sword and shield. Because, in truth, the water that fills the font of Holy Baptism is water that flows with the Blood of Christ from His pierced side, from the innermost depths of His heart, from His crucified Body.
Therefore, Holy Baptism brings about a new heavens and a new earth, a new home for you, where righteousness dwells. It ushers you into that home, in order that you may live and abide with the Father, in Christ, as a member of His household and family, and may rest in the peace of His Spirit.
It gives you this righteousness of Christ, by which you are justified, and it brings you into this new home with Him, to know His God and Father as your own dear Father, to be anointed by His Spirit and to share His Life, through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. Everything is made brand new. Your slate is cleaned. For Baptism is not only a new creation, but a new and better flood, which drowns and destroys the old Adam in you, with all his mockery and worldly desires, and washes away all your sins, while preserving you alive and well aboard the Ark of the Church.
It is within His Church, by your Baptism into Christ, as a member of His Body, united with Him in His Cross and Resurrection, that you are also His Holy Bride. He has clothed you in the white wedding dress of His perfect righteousness, and has adorned you in the beauty of His holiness.
Baptized into Christ Jesus, you share His Glory, by His grace; so it is, that your place is with Him in His Kingdom. Indeed, His Royal Majesty crowns you with His divine and everlasting Life.
This is all pretty different than what James and John were envisioning; and it is so much better than anything they, or you, could ever have imagined. And it is yours by the Baptism of Christ, that is, by and through the water included in His command and combined with His Word.
Water by itself is already God’s good creation, and His good gift, by which He grants and brings forth life on earth. It quenches thirst, and cleanses the body, and it refreshes, not only man and beast, but grass and trees and plants of every kind. Together with sunshine, the rain which waters the earth is by God’s grace, by His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, also for all the wicked.
But water, by itself, does not forgive sins or rescue from death and the devil. Water, by itself, is providence for temporal life, but not a source or means of eternal life. By itself, it is only water, and no Baptism. But with the Word of God, simple water becomes something altogether more.
This is how the Holy Triune God, in His divine wisdom, has delighted to work from the beginning. When He first created the heavens and the earth, He started with the deep waters, over which His Spirit hovered, and out of which His Word brought forth the world and everything in it. So, too, with the waters of the flood, He cleansed His creation and rescued faithful Noah and his family.
And after He brought Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea — as He would also bring them through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan — He provided them with water in the desert wilderness: from the Rock. And how did He do that? In each and every case, He did it by His Holy Word. “Speak to the Rock,” He said to Moses, and “thus bring forth water.”
It is by the Word of Christ, that is, by the Speaking of the Father to you by His Son, that the waters of your Baptism have been filled with the significance of His own Baptism: Which is what? The Voice of the Father from an opened heaven, declaring His Name and His Glory over the waters, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, descending upon your body in the bodily form of this means of grace, and resting and remaining upon you, because you rest and remain in the Body of Christ.
Thus does He show Himself to be the Holy, Holy, Holy One, by sanctifying you with His Holiness in the waters of your Baptism. Which is utterly unlike the greatness and the glory of the Gentiles: It is the gift of Life, by divine grace, accomplished and bestowed upon His own creation by the Lord’s Self-Sacrifice, by the pouring out of His Body and Life, even unto death upon the Cross.
In the same way that the waters become such a Life-giving Baptism by the Word of Christ Jesus, so do His preaching and His catechesis continue, day by day throughout your life on earth, even to the close of the age. And by this ongoing Word of Christ, He reminds you of the significance of your Holy Baptism; He returns you to its repentance; and He restores you to its righteousness.
So, what does that mean? And what does that look like? It means that your life is found in Christ, and that your greatness and your glory as a Christian are that of His grace and of His Sacrifice. Which is to say that, far from being ashamed of His Gospel and His Cross, these things of Christ are your only pride and joy, in which alone you boast and glory.
And that means, conversely, that your worldly ambitions, your sinful human ego, your envy and jealousy, and your competition and contention with others, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and with all your neighbors, all of this is crucified and put to death in you. And, therefore, instead of all that, you begin to love your neighbors, your enemies as well as your friends, in the way that Christ Jesus lives in love for you, and lays down His Body and Life to serve and care for you.
As you are baptized into Him, do not grumble or complain against the Lord your God, who has brought you out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand; nor grumble and complain against His servants and His people, but love them and forgive them in patience and in peace.
Your Baptism into Christ Jesus certainly calls you to live in humility, in repentance and in faith, relying not upon yourself, but upon the Lord who calls you to believe and trust His Word and promise. He is faithful, and He will do it. That alone is your hope and help, and your salvation.
Even Moses and Aaron, and James and John, and the other Apostles, fell short in their faith and love, and oftentimes fell off the road of discipleship into the ditch of ego and envy, ignorance, indignation, and incredulity. How easy it is to fear man more than God, and to love the praises of men more than God. Be on your guard against those dangers and temptations, and repent of those sins in your own heart and life. But do not despair. Rather, in repentance, look to Christ, and live.
Your Baptism, your discipleship, your life and salvation, do not rest upon your shoulders, nor do they depend upon you and your faithfulness. Each and all of these, and you, and your faith, rest upon Christ, and depend upon Him, upon His Baptism and His Cup, and upon His faithful, loving Service, for you and for all.
He has drained the Cup of God’s righteous wrath and anger against your sins, in order to atone for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, and to ransom and redeem you from death and the devil forever. He has accomplished and completed the significance of His Baptism by His death upon the Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the outpouring of His holy and precious Blood. Therefore, death is destroyed, and the devil is defeated; for the Body and Life of the very Son of God have been given for you.
This is the greatness and the glory of God: That He has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ Jesus, who has not only died for you, but has also risen from the dead, and lives and reigns forever; that He has done all of this by grace, for the forgiveness and salvation of sinners, including you, no more nor less than for James and John, for Simon Peter, for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul. No distinctions. No exceptions. The incarnate Son of God has become the Servant and the Slave of all, and has given Himself as the Sacrifice of propitiation for the sins of the world.
With the same loving service, by the same divine grace, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus also now cleanses and sanctifies you with His own righteousness and holiness: He has done so in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and those same waters remain, daily washing away all of your sins; for you stand, by faith, in the midst of the River of Life, constantly flowing from His pierced side, and constantly cleansing you of all unrighteousness. So, too, the ongoing catechesis of Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, and His Word of Holy Absolution, are always putting you back into that cleansing flood, into that holy bath, into that living and Life-giving water from the Rock of Ages.
And thus, He gives to you, His beloved and beautiful Bride, to drink from His Cup of Salvation. In this Chalice there is no poison, nor any wrath anymore, but the Blood of Jesus, who has gone up to Jerusalem ahead of you, in order to prepare a place for you at His Table, in His Kingdom. That is the place that is prepared and is now given to all who believe and are baptized into Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.