Three years later, Jesus spoke of his choice of dying for us, out of complete love for us, as a new baptism, a plunging this time into the darkness of the tomb, an irrevocable sacrifice and crossing over into a new life, a resurrected life. Remember, always, that Jesus freely chose to die, to lay his life down. He was not a victim. His freely-chosen death was even more radically life-changing, for him and for us, than his Baptism - and it led to new, transformed life.
When we are baptized with water, we are plunged into the death of Jesus the Christ, and emerge from the water as people resurrected to new life in Christ. Water, which gives both death and life, washes us clean of sin and transforms us. Now we become "dead to sin" - our bodies, minds, and hearts, united to Christ, need no longer be responsive and vulnerable to the temptations and seductions of sin. Now we can freely choose to follow Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection. We are called to live with love, as Jesus did, to accept our sufferings as preliminary deaths that we cannot avoid, and to accept, with faith and joy, that our merciful God can transform us through our sufferings so that we are raised up within to live more deeply and humbly and compassionately. Finally, we too will die, freely lay down our lives, and be raised to new eternal life.
Water is also a great symbol of God's Mercy - a mercy given to us most overwhelmingly in Jesus' death for us. As Sister Faustina tells us, Jesus' death on the cross, the lance into his side, released a spiritual ocean of blood and water, primal Mercy spiritually drenching, enveloping, cleansing, healing, revivifying, all human beings of every time and place, and enveloping all creation, which came as a gift from God's hand and needs rebirth as much as humans do.
Our compassionate Lord Jesus died, and a fountain of Mercy gushed forth from his divine heart, and an ocean of mercy enveloped the world, enveloped the solar system, enveloped the Universe, and, perhaps, even beyond..... The resurrected Jesus, now the Cosmic Christ, through this ocean of God's divine Mercy, yearns to unite everyone with himself, unite all human beings with each other in him, unite and renew all creation. God's Mercy is everlasting! Death leads to life!
The whole rhythm and pattern of our lives, and the life of the universe, is death and resurrection. If we look through the lens of our Baptism at all life around us, we can see the deaths and resurrections in our lives and the lives of those around us. After and through every little and big "death," every suffering, if we accept it as learning, we rise to a new, deeper, inner life of understanding others' sufferings so that eventually, after we've loved and suffered enough, we can reach out to even those most different from us with compassion. Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, tells us
"Jesus' life, death, and raising up is the whole pattern revealed, named, summed up, and assured for our own lives. It gives us the full trajectory that we might not recognize otherwise. He is the map. The Jesus story is the universe story. The Universal Christ is no threat to anything but separateness, illusion, domination, and the imperial ego....Only when we follow Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection will we have any universal and salvific message for the rest of the earth....
"Those who 'gaze upon' (John 19:37) the Crucified long enough - with contemplative eyes - are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggression, and victimhood. Contemplative gazing demands no theological education, just an 'inner exchange' by receiving the image within and offering one's soul back in safe return. (The psychologist) C.G. Jung is supposed to have said that a naked man nailed to a cross is perhaps the deepest archetypal symbol in the Western psyche....
"If all our crucifixions (sufferings and eventual deaths) are leading to some possible resurrection and are not dead-end tragedies, this changes everything. If God is somehow participating in the suffering of humans and creation, instead of just passively tolerating it and observing it, that also changes everything - at least for those who are willing to 'gaze' contemplatively.'"
What a spiritual break-through we make when we gaze at the Crucified and realize that our merciful God does NOT just observe us from an indifferent distance as we suffer! God - Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit, all participated in our redemption, know what it means to suffer, and suffer with us till the end of time. William Paul Young, in his spiritual classic, "The Shack," illustrates this graphically. Young's main character, Mack, who had a terrible relationship with an alcoholic and abusive father, and mourns over other tragedies, meets God the Father, Who is appearing to him as God the Mother, a black woman, at this point baking in a kitchen, in a shack. Mack confronts God over God's seeming absence and silence. Here is a telling scene:
"How can you really know how I feel?" Mack asked, looking back into her eyes.
Papa (Mack's wife's name for God) didn't answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars on her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.
"Don't ever think that what my Son chose to do didn't cost us (the Trinity) dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,' she stated softly and gently. "We were there together."
Mack was surprised. "At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him - you know - 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' It was a Scripture that had often haunted Mack in 'The Great Sadness' (Mack's personal tragedies.)
"You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him."
"How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!"
"Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you."
"That makes no sense to me," he snapped.
"I know it doesn't, at least not yet. Will you at least consider this: when all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?....Don't forget, the story didn't end in his sense of forsakenness. He found his way through it to put himself completely into my hands. Oh, what a moment that was!....Mack, pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly." She waited a moment, allowing her words to settle. "And if it's left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were created to fly in the first place."
(She continued) "Mackenzie, as you might imagine, there are some advantages to being God. By nature, I am completely unlimited, without bounds. I have always known fullness. I live in a state of perpetual satisfaction as my normal state of existence....We created you to share in that. But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we (the Trinity) knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole creation, we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess - that's what we have done in Jesus."
That's Divine Mercy - God, Three Persons in One God, choosing not to scrap all creation after we sinned, and, instead, entering into the middle of our mess, and giving us Jesus. God, Divine Love and Mercy, then continues to be with all of us, working tirelessly to save each one of us, one at a time. We are immersed in an ocean of Divine Mercy our entire lives.If we respond to the Mercy of God, we are able to reflect the glory of God once more - in our own capacity to be merciful! We see with God's eyes, love with God's heart, recognize that God loves even those who are most far away from Him, and desires them to return - and we pray unceasingly for their souls!
Why be a Christian? Why be baptized? We Christians are given the privilege to name the mystery - the mystery of Jesus, God and Man, coming to be with us, to save us, to redeem us, to release a flood of divine mercy to engulf the soul of every man, woman, and child. Jesus promises us that if we follow him and enter willingly into his death through our sufferings and deaths, and choose to become His Mercy, we too will enter into the new life of resurrection. Flying, as Young would say, is what we were born for - flying as Sons and Daughters of God, flying on the wings of Grace back to God for eternal joy in heaven.