At the conclusion of this week’s focus on Chapter 6, in our summer series on the Book of Romans, St. Paul witnesses: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23; RSV). A good deal of the first half of St. Paul’s letter is spent showing how Sin and Death go together. He wants us to understand that death is not simply a natural process, but a Power (cf. Ephesians 6:11) linked with Sin to deal destruction to our human race.
This is not a popular concept in our optimistic, positive-thinking America, but the great writers have understood it – especially the great prophetic playwrights of 20th century America. One such playwright was Tennessee Williams. Today, if you take a walking tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans, you’ll see the house on St. Peter Street where “Tennessee” wrote his most famous play – while living on the third floor. He’d been tinkering with various titles for it – making his final decision when he realized that the house he was living in was located between two streetcar lines. One streetcar went in one direction to Desire, the other went the opposite direction to Cemeteries. There it is: Sin (desire) and Death (cemeteries). The devices and desire of our own hearts’ imprison us in Sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23; cf. 7:24). And we all live in this house. So are we stuck here? … Is this our permanent address? …
In Chapter 6 of Romans, St. Paul leaves behind the long descriptions of how we have fallen into the grip of Sin and launches into a kind of rhapsody about what happens to Christians when we are baptized.
“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,
so that [and here comes the life-giving good news!] as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
This coming weekend, think about your own baptism and the baptism of your children, and others whom you love (such as little Michael, Christian, and Carson who will be baptized into the life of Christ this weekend, among our family of faith at First Lutheran). Think also on this: all the things we find upsetting about ourselves, the habits we cannot seem to shake, the personality traits that get us in trouble, the secret obsessions and perversions that we struggle to hide even from ourselves – all of this has been put to death. Yes, as St. Paul and Martin Luther observe: the old Adam in us still weighs us down with sin; however, because we now live in Christ, the new Adam … sin and death no longer determine us (Romans 5:12-18; cf. I Corinthians 5:15). We are sinners, yes, but everything has changed because we are now justified sinners by God’s saving grace in Christ – who has overcome our Sin and Death by taking it upon himself.
In the biography, "Conversations with Tennessee Williams" by Albert Devlin, we learn that the house Williams finally owned and lived in on Toulouse Street was not his first choice. Rather, he had wanted to buy a large old Victorian on the corner of Orleans and Dauphine. The reason he wanted it was that the upper windows afforded a view of the statue of Christ behind the St. Louis Cathedral. Christ is lifting his hands in blessing, and at night the spotlights cast a shadow much larger than the statue itself, making the statue’s embrace seem universal. Tennessee said that it seemed to him as if Christ was comforting the suffering world and it gave him a sense of peace to look at it. Perhaps Tennessee had the Psalmist’s word of blessed assurance in mind, even in the valley of the shadow: “And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6b). Another sage author, with deep insight into our fallen, yet redeemed human condition in Christ’s resurrection, shares this amazing witness:
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so …
Why swellest thou thee? One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
(John Donne; Holy Sonnets #10)
Bring your “swim-suits” this weekend…
We’ll be having baptisms at every worship service :) How perfect!