Through the Waters to New Life

You know, I don't really like 1 Peter. And part of my dislike for it is that, a bit before our epistle for this week, Peter expands significantly on the benefits of wifely submission and husbandly condescension. You see, 1 Peter belongs to an environment that has marked similarities to the Timothies and Titus, which I also don't really like. These letters belong to a world in which social conformity is desirable in order to live peaceably -- even if such conformity has nothing positive to do with who we are called to be as the people of God. "Go along to get along." Assimilate and suffer blamelessly.

But with some major differences (like not being persecuted), you can also see such a world around you today -- and I don't like it, either. A Christian worldview and a Christian ethic that belongs to social mores more than it does to scripture. The people of God chasing an idol of human manufacture: "Christian culture." Cultural Christianity.

But that's not all Peter has -- and thank God, it's not all we have, either. Even if the content of Peter's ethic is wrong -- the idea that we should assimilate to the world around us -- the context and the idea Peter gives in our epistle today are solid. God who preserves all life on earth, every living thing that dies, also redeems every life in the whole creation. The things we suffer are not from God, any more than God inflicted the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Suffering in creation is simply something that happens, something creatures inflict on one another. And in the compact made with Noah, God sets forth an understanding that this is wrong, that it begins a cycle of bloodshed that has no end -- but God will never again try to unmake the world to fix it. God grieves because of evil, as the prophet Joel reminded us Wednesday, but unmaking the world cannot fix it -- it can only cause more grief.

Instead, God steps into our world in Jesus Christ. The one who comes and is baptized in the Jordan as the response to God of one who knows what is good. The one God accepts and calls "my beloved son." The one cast by the Spirit into the trans-Jordan wilderness to be tested. The one who today returns to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God, and the end of the cycle. What cycle? What season is this that now draws to a close? Mark doesn't say, but I believe that in Christ God has found another way to end the cycle of violence. To break the bonds of people killing people in turn. To destroy the cycle of revenge, and to begin again the song that we will sing throughout Lent: "Return to the Lord your god, for he is gracious and merciful / slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." The terms of Israel's surrender in Joel; the terms of our new life in Christ. Simply to be in relationship with God, and to let that set the terms of all other relationships. And God always creates this relationship. It is never something demanded of us -- never "Come to the Lord your god," as though we could. Only "come back," to a place where God has always already made the way. Not to a place where God waits, but to this place where we are, where God is creating new life in each and every living, breathing body of ours.

And so Peter is right, even if only on this point: we will suffer in this world. And it is better for us to suffer doing what is good, than for us to suffer doing evil. But ultimately, the suffering never has the final say. And it cannot precisely because Jesus, too, suffered here, and died here, and lives in spirit to breathe the breath of life back into even those souls that God wiped from the face of the earth in his grief back in Noah's day. And if God in Christ has redeemed them with a word of life, how much more will God redeem us from our sufferings while we live? The seal of this covenant with us is remarkably like the seal of God's covenant with Noah -- made of water, but ephemeral. Invisible until refreshed with more water, but always present. The end of our bondage to vengeance, the end of being subject to suffering, comes as we pass through the water, and God rescues us by a sign of the cross. Violence may continue around us, and suffering will certainly strike at us, but it cannot rule over us, because we have been rescued through the water of this sign. We belong to God, who brings new life out of this world of suffering, and who will never let go of our spirits, not even in death, because we have passed through the waters and they no longer have the final word.


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