From Peculiar Speech, by William Willimon, Eerdmans Publishing, 1992, pp. 14-15 (edited).
Romans 6:3-8 — Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
I was in Mississippi, leading a Bible study of Romans. I was talking about some verses in chapter six: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death… Our old self was crucified… We have died with Christ.”
We are crucified and already dead, it says. There were dumb stares from the group of assembled laity. In desperation I asked, “Has anyone here ever had to die to be a Christian?”
Then someone spoke. “When the schools of Jackson integrated, I thought I would die. I knew enough to know that, on that day, when black children went to school with white, it was over for us. Our white world was gone. But now my neighbor, and best friend, is black. An old world died, but a new world was born.”
“OK, good. Anyone else?” I said.
A lady in the back row spoke next. “I was always afraid to be in the house alone. When my husband went away on overnight business trips, I always went with him; and then, after my daughter was born, I took her and we stayed at a friend’s house. I could not stay alone. Then my daughter died of leukemia, and I have never been afraid to be alone again.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t get the connection.”
“Well, my daughter’s death felt like the death of me too. And when you are dead, what else is there to fear? When you’ve had to let go of the most precious possession of your life, what else could anyone do to you that would be worse?”
Garrison Keillor tells a delightful story about Sveeggen, a farm boy of twelve, left alone with chores to do in the family barn. He heard the wind begin to howl and looked out the barn door into a fierce blizzard. To his horror, he saw the family home engulfed in flames. Running out the barn door into the blizzard, he became disoriented in the white wilderness. He knew that he was lost in the snow and would die.
Then suddenly he saw the house again. He walked toward the orange glow and warmed himself by the flames. Regaining his bearings, he then “ran straight into the blizzard and ran smack into the side of the barn, where he spent the night, lying next to the cow, Tina, holding his broken nose.”
Even into his adult years, Sveeggen never forgot this confrontation with death. Like those having been baptized, he responded in gratitude, “How kind is God the Father, we were all lost in sin” (just as he was lost in that blizzard).
Keillor comments: “Having lost his life he entered a new one with a sweet disposition. He planted trees, raised cattle, married, had seven children, and seldom spoke a harsh word. His nose was never set. He pitched ten tons of hay the day he was married. In their wedding picture, he sits smiling, his eyes bright beside his ruined beak, a man who took a hard wallop and now everything was easy for him.” (Lake Wobegon Days, pp. 207-8).
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Book of Common Prayer