Lenten Midweek Series
A Six Week Meditation on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism
We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, “Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.”
Large Catechism, Part IV, paragraph 44
When you wash your face remember your Baptism.
Luther’s Table Talk
In the Name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!
“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” This somber rite is a graphic way for you to face your own mortality. Many in the world would wonder why Christians would subject themselves to such a blunt reminder of their impending demise with a terrifying statement like “You are dust!”
I’ve heard it said more bluntly. A few years back one of my sons commented on his grandmother’s aging. In his honest words he innocently said, “Grandma, you’re getting dead!” This wasn’t long before Ash Wednesday and when she came for the imposition of ashes I was tempted to humorously say, “Grandma, you’re getting dead!” That is exactly the stark reminder of this day. We’re all getting dead. We’re all dust.
“Surely this man must die!” Those were the words of King David when Nathan came to him and told him about a rich man who stole a lamb from a poor man. The grave injustice of this man’s sin caused indignation to boil in the king’s bones. “This man must die!”—but—“You are the man.” said the prophet. David announced his own death sentence. Nathan’s story was only a parable. David had stolen not a lamb, but a wife, Bathsheba. When she conceived a child he hid his sin by killing her husband Urriah. David, the great king, was a lying, coveting, stealing, adulterous, murderer. “Surely this man must die!”
The prophet Nathan had not spoken a single word of condemnation to David. He told him the parable of the rich and poor man and let David connect the dots. David condemned himself. In that moment David learned a truth he later wrote about in our Psalm, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David was shattered and broken as his life slammed against the rock of God’s Holy Law and Righteousness. David had transgressed every commandment in less then a week.
“I have sinned against the Lord!” was all he could reply. His mouth with all its excuses, self-justifications, and deceptions was now shut up and all his tongue could do was confess sin. That’s what happens to sinners, he shuts them up. His Law catches us red-handed and even those in deepest denial will one day have to give an account for their deeds. We should never look at David and think we would never commit such heinous crimes. We have as much hunger for what does not belong to us as he had. We are just as tempted to use whatever position we possess for selfish motives. And yes, our sinful hearts are capable of murder. We’ve come here on Ash Wednesday to say as David, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan, still having not spoken a word of God’s condemnation for David’s sin replied simply and clearly, “And the Lord has taken away your sin!” David expected judgment and death. God gave him forgiveness and life. This dark and ugly chapter of David’s life inspired the Psalm we chanted this evening. It’s rich with reminders of God’s mercy and how he cleanses sinners.
“Have mercy on me, O God,
According to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy;
Blot out my transgressions.”
“Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin!”
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be as white as snow.”
David knew well that we all need washing and cleansing. At the temple hyssop branches would be dipped in the blood of the sacrifices and applied to the people as a sign that God had placed their guilt upon the sacrifice. Hyssop was used to cover the doors with the blood of the paschal lamb at the Passover so that the destroyer would not bring death to Israel’s homes. Hyssop was used as a cleansing reminder of God’s forgiveness as cleansed lepers would dip it in water and wash their bodies with it. There were prescribed washings for different occasions and these were given to them as a symbol for God’s forgiveness.
David spoke of all this with one eye looking to Israel’s past where God provided forgiveness at the temple and one eye towards the future when God would send His final sacrifice the Messiah. These words of David are only possible because God would send David’s Son, the Christ, who blot out our transgressions for all eternity. Indeed all the other cleansing and washing of Israel was a foretaste of what was to come who would cleanse the world with His blood and wash it with the waters of Baptism. What David had in only a foreshadow we see in fullness at the washing with water and the Word that our Lord Jesus instituted.
At Baptism God unleashes the sentence that David spoke, “This man must die!” The sinner surely dies for he is buried in Christ’s death. This is no mere symbol, but the very sentence that sinless Jesus received for you on the cross is given to you at Baptism. The death you deserve is given to you in Jesus.
At Baptism God unleashes the absolution that Nathan spoke to David. As we are buried with Christ we are also raised with Him in His resurrection. We come to those waters having received the sentence of death and exit them with a new judgment—forgiven. You enter a sinner and come out a saint. And this is all God’s doing as David said. Wash me, cleanse me, purge me, create in me, and renew me. Only God can save a sinner.
We remember tonight that we’re all getting dead! Those ashes on your forehead bear that frightful message. Our meditation doesn’t stop there though. You might notice that everyone has received their ashes in the shape of Christ’s cross. Before someone is Baptized the pastor makes the sign of the cross upon the candidate saying, “Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Those ashes on your forehead are in fact a reminder of both the death and the life you received in Baptism. He has promised us in the death-dealing waters of baptism that we possess the life which is Christ’s. His promise will not return to us empty. Death cannot stop the promise of God for Christ is risen from the dead.
In closing meditate this evening on the two quotes from Dr. Luther on the front cover of your bulletin. When you go home tonight and wash your face, remember your Baptism. When Satan and your sin and conscience oppresses you with guilt let this by your byword, “Nevertheless, I am baptized.” For if you are baptized, it is promised to you that you shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
SDG – Rev. Eric M. Estes