I recently asked a friend why folks don’t like to use the word “sin.” They are comfortable saying “mistake.” But in common conversation it is awkward to say “I sinned.”
My friend answered with a profound statement. “It’s too big a word.”
I’ve been thinking about that. We use the term “freighted” sometimes when speaking of words that have huge connotations. I suppose “sin” and it’s cousin “forgive” are freighted with implied judgment, God’s judgment. And yet we all admit judging ourselves and others by some kind of standard. Wouldn’t God’s judgment be more reliable than yours or mine? He was after all author of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and a few other refinements on basic behavior. But such authority is no doubt part of the bigness, part of the freighted baggage that modernity wishes to throw off the train. But where does that leave us? Without bigness and only smallness.
We sin against God and against one another. When we do this we actually are sinning against ourselves, according to Raymond Raynes, late Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in England. Father Raynes argued that since God is our Creator and has set up the system of natural laws that govern his creation, when we break those laws we actually break ourselves. Sin destroys. Sin pays wages we may not want – including death.
A baby was baptized in church today. She was washed clean of the sin inherent in our broken human nature, sin passed through generations from Adam and Eve to the present. And she was given a means to deal with future sins, future times of brokenness, by being grafted onto Christ’s Body the Church in baptism. Through water and spirit she has been made new, renewed, made whole. It was a miracle and we were a part of it.
We honored this miracle with a special hymn as the Sunday School children gathered around the font and sang, “Dearest Jesus, We Are Here,” and as the Bach tune lilted through the air we prayed for our little Ka’alayah in her long white gown. We prayed as the priest poured the holy water over her tiny head and said her Christian name, Christening her.
She has been Christened. She has been made a part of Christ’s Body. These too are large words, big words. We still speak of a person’s “Christian” name, the individual name given at baptism. It is a unique name for a unique person created by a loving God, a God desiring to heal our brokenness again and again.
The priest marked her forehead with a cross as he said:
We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign her with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter she shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.
Words. Not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified… We have banished big holy words from our discourse because we are ashamed. We are Peter as he denied knowing his Lord in the courtyard that dark Maundy Thursday night, or perhaps the early graying dawn of Good Friday. We don’t want to be different from others in our culture; we want acceptance. We are ashamed of the Cross, the naked bloody way he died, publicly, humiliated, for us. We have tried to sanitize the Cross through the centuries, removing the corpus, forging it in gold, but it returns and reminds us, nudging us. We are ashamed to confess Christ crucified.
Words. It seems okay to say God, but not Jesus. It’s okay to say church, but not Christ. (Unless cursing.) It’s okay to speak of going to church but not what we believe, as though church were some kind of hobby one chooses or not. We make church small, for the word is too big if it is really the Body of Christ. We dance around the big words. They are fiery and dangerous, embarrassing and offensive.
We don’t want to offend. But in the process of banishing big meaningful words, big beautiful powerful, exciting and adventurous words that speak of the meaning of life and death, love, marriage, and family, why we rise in the morning and how we spend our short span on earth, how we care for one another, how we organize the pivotal relationships of society and social intercourse – in the process of banishing these words – we step into a dangerous universe. In this dancing around and covering up the bigness we enter a void of meaning, we drug our language, make our speech comatose.
I don’t want to live in the shadow-lands, somewhere between reality and fantasy. As I embrace these big words, I am thankful that some sixty-five years ago, I was, like little Ka’alaya, reborn with water and spirit, and since that time have been nurtured with the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, being regenerated and made whole again and again. I have learned hopefully to recognize sin when I see it in myself so that I am able to confess it. Once seen and admitted, I repent these thoughts, words and deeds. I can then turn once again toward the light.
Father Raynes says the beginning of eternity is now. We follow our Creator’s plan and desire to grow in him, to grow into our resurrection bodies.
So we are baptized with water and Spirit, we are given the sacraments, and we are given his son to nourish us along the way. Through this lifelong process of renew-ness, we step toward heaven, another huge word and one of which I am not ashamed to confess.