A future alive in God
A slight chill in the morning air recalled for me a recent cartoon. Side by side pictures show the same young woman in a park. In one, she is in a sweater and pants, with a cap on her head, bundled up and huddled on a bench, a baby stroller next to her covered with a blanket. In the other, she is in a flowery dress with a floppy sun hat and skipping down a path behind the open baby stroller, with a bright smile on her face. The first one is captioned: 70 degrees in fall. The second one: 70 degrees in spring.
What a difference it makes to us – where we think we are headed! If summer is over and winter looms, 70 degrees feels chilly and forbidding. If winter is past and summer brightens ahead of us, 70 degrees feels like freedom and exuberance. Same reality; different experience.
When God led Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the people entered a wilderness. With the promise of a homeland “flowing with milk and honey” and God traveling ahead of them “in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night,” the rigors of the wilderness could be bearable. The Bible tells us, though, that the people’s focus shifted. They looked at the uncertainty that came with food delivered daily, not in storage bins. They considered that their water supply came only as needed, not out of freely flowing taps. With those things in focus, they began to see a different future. How long could they endure? What would be their fate? They murmured against God and rebelled against Moses. What had been bearable became oppressive and threatening.
The apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans reminds us that “we have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of his Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4). Baptism is not just joining the church or a promise of eternal life some day. It is the moment when God attaches the victory over death, which was gained in Jesus’s cross and resurrection, to our mortal lives. No doubt, we will yet die, but the “sting of death” that threatens us with judgment and meaninglessness has been beaten. The life that God gives us to live in Christ – a life of grace and justice and mercy and peace – is already ours, because our mortal death will not “be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
There is a motivational poster that encourages us to “dance like no one is watching, love like you have never been hurt, sing like no one is listening.” That is all about imagining that where we are going is only good – not embarrassing or painful or frightening. As baptized people of God, we don’t have to imagine. We get to live with confidence that our future is alive in God – and that our future began in our baptism. What a difference it can make – to know that where we are headed can be where we are already!