Eight Days a Week

We have arrived at the season of Easter. With the resurrection of our Lord from the tomb everything has changed. We live in a new world, a world where life exists that is no longer subject to death. For the first time since Genesis 1 and 2, we find someone who is free from both sin and death. The echoes of God’s original, perfect creation are heard as the stone rolls back and the angels announce, “He is risen!”

There is a thought that comes to us from very early in the church regarding creation. God creates the world in seven days. At some point after the work of creation was completed, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptations of Satan and sin and death enter the world. From that point forward, mankind has been stuck in an endless cycle. We live each week under the yoke of sin. As we come up on the end of the week, we hope and pray the next week will bring something new, that it will bring freedom. But it never does. Each week follows the last as the endless progression of sin’s domination leaves us in chains. We go to Saturday, God’s declared day of rest, and the week starts all over again and we have a new week of sin and death to look forward to.

When Jesus rises from the tomb, something is different. Jesus is like Adam was before the Fall, sinless and perfect. Yet, Jesus is better in one very important way. Where sin and death were always a possibility for Adam, they are no longer possible for Jesus. He has conquered both. He has triumphed over both. Jesus brings something into the world which creation has never seen before: a life beyond the power and reach of death.

For the first time, the world sees what God’s promise truly means, a life where death is no longer possible, an eternal life. Jesus has been talking about throughout His ministry but now it is finally here. Jesus ushers in the very beginnings of the new creation. Until now, we’ve been trapped in the endless cycle of days, days that roll into weeks, and weeks that continue on and on until we die. When Jesus rises again, He does so on what would normally be the first day of the week, the first day of creation. But, Jesus’ life is no longer trapped in that cycle. He lives not in the old creation but the new. Like a bulldozer, Jesus breaks through the barrier that stands on the seventh day, waiting to send us back around. In the language of creation, He rises not on the first day, but the eighth.

Life in Jesus is not bound to the cycle of sin and death but stretches out into an endless eternity. The Eighth Day then represents the new creation and looks to our life in Christ. This Eighth Day is foreshadowed in various places in Scripture, with circumcision being the most obvious. God required the sons of Abraham to be circumcised on their eighth day of life. This is when God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was explicitly bound to them. This is when they became God’s people.

The theme of adoption comes to us in the New Testament age through baptism. We are made God’s people and children of the promise through water and the Word. But, we are also bound to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus rises on the Eighth Day and so that new creation life is ours too through baptism.

The power of Christ’s resurrection in history is hard to overstate. Looking at the life of the early church, God’s Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Jews worshiped on Saturday. They have always worshiped on Saturday, for that was the Law. Now, in the very beginnings of the church people are worshipping instead on Sunday and they do so almost immediately and without any major debate. The power of what Christ has brought into the world cannot be denied. We are people of the new creation and we worship a God who is bringing a new heavens and a new earth. We may not know what that new earth looks like exactly, but we know what our life within that earth will look like. We see it every time we look at our risen Lord.

The Sign of the Cross

There are many elements that are a part of the standard baptismal liturgy in the Lutheran church. There are prayers. There is the confession of the Creed. There’s a blessing. There is often a white garment and often a candle. There are usually sponsors and/or parents. There is, of course, the pastor and the Christian being baptized.

In and among the different elements of the baptismal rite is the sign of the cross. The pastor briefly marks the one to be baptized with a cross over the head and over the heart. It comes and goes quickly and probably doesn’t mean much in the moment, but of the elements of the rite, it is one whose effects can be seen for much longer. I say that because you probably won’t wear white every day, or even every Sunday. You aren’t going to walk around with a lot candle wherever you go. You aren’t going to be welcomed by the congregation on a weekly basis. However, every Sunday is a Sunday you are baptized. Every Sunday, indeed every day, is one where you have been claimed by God and where you are covered in the righteousness of Christ, the Crucified.

The early church would often talk about baptism as conveying an “indelible seal.” Baptism marks you in a way that nothing in creation has the power to remove. God has claimed you, forever and always and He will never change His mind. Everything God offers in baptism is yours in perpetuity.

Whether you choose to mark yourself with the sign of the cross does not change your standing before God. It does not give you any more grace or other blessings from God because that was all given to you already in your baptism. What it does do is act as a constant reminder of who you belong to and how you came to be His.

You were baptized in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You have been adopted into His family and been given His name. The sign of the cross becomes a way of looking at your adoption certificate, always there to remind you that, however you feel and whatever you may have done, you are part of His family. Luther suggests making the sign of the cross as you say your morning and evening prayers. That way, the whole day through you will remember you are covered by that baptismal promise. Making the sign of the cross during church also reminds you that, whether you are receiving forgiveness, whether you are receiving any of the other blessings of God, whether you are confessing your faith, or really just about anything else, these things are all yours because you have been baptized and that all of this is yours throughout your life and into eternity.

A Difference in Direction

I talked last week about one way in which we can change how we approach our dialogue with other denominations. A more comprehensive understanding of the sacraments allows us to see different ways in which the sacraments are working and that all of them fall under the larger umbrella of each sacrament. Since we Lutherans tend to focus rather narrowly on the motif of forgiveness, we also tend to miss much of what else is going on.

That said, Lutherans continue to meditate on Luther’s explanation of our relationship with God. There is much about the sacraments and everything else in our relationship with God that we play an active role in. We worship and praise. We offer prayers, both for ourselves and for those around us. We honor Him in word and deed by both treating Him as God and by sharing His love with others. We participate in all of this activity and much of that is found in the sacraments in one way or another. However, none of that begins with us.

Luther remarks in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Before you can do anything for God, you have to first know He’s even there. Our sinful state refuses to acknowledge any God but ourselves. Without the Spirit’s intervention to kindle faith in our hearts, we are lost. Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone.” St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have nothing with which to reach God and no desire to do so. If we are to have anything beyond our own, self-imposed prison, God must reach down and pull us up.

One of the most potent themes to reinforce this idea is that of adoption. St. Paul works with this theme in a few places. Galatians 3-4 is one such place where he unpacks the significance of this idea and he explicitly ties baptism into this process. We all used to be orphans, but through the grace of God we have been adopted by Him and brought into His family. We didn’t pay for this service, for we had nothing at all to offer. If He had not chosen to make us His own, we would all still be lost with no recourse to change the outcome.

It’s a little hard to swallow how completely lost and destitute we are. It sounds as though we should have some part to play in that initial work of our salvation. Thankfully, God doesn’t just give us one example. The adoption motif didn’t start with St. Paul. This baptismal idea can be traced back at least as far as Abraham, who was told by God to circumcise all of his male children on their eighth day of life. I won’t get into the significance of the eighth day here. That’s an entirely other topic. Nevertheless, an eight year old child is explicitly made a child of God and bound to the promise He made to Abraham through this rite. This rite asks nothing of the child. In fact, the child is an entirely passive (and probably unwilling!) recipient of the rite. The child has not intellectual understanding of what is going on. The child offers nothing to the process. The only awareness is of pain and discomfort. And yet, this rite is the outward declaration of what God has done and continues to do for this child and for the whole people of Israel.

God makes that same promise through baptism in the church today. We offer nothing, for we have nothing. Baptism may not carry the physical pain circumcision does, but it still brings a radical, and rather uncomfortable, change. We are claimed by God and brought into His family, which necessarily puts us at odds with the world around us. Still, once we are a part of His family and we have received His promised gifts through Word and Sacrament, now we have something to offer. We are enabled to give back to Him what He has given us and we have that same gift to offer to those around us. The sacraments cannot work in any other way. “The last shall be first,” as Jesus says. Only those who come to Him knowing they have nothing we suddenly find they have everything.

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