Baptism Is Your Damascus Road
In preparing for a past week's sermon for the Festival of St. Paul's Conversion I was struck by the overt death and resurrection references in Luke's account of Saul on the Damascus road in Acts 9.
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
...“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
Paul's conversion is a death and resurrection story. And in reality, so is every conversion, whether it was an awe-inspiring experience like Paul's or not. Dead to sin and alive in Christ. Not only is there drama in the dogma, as Dorothy Sayers teaches us, but there's nothing more dramatic than Holy Baptism, where Jesus does for us what He did for Saul.
Baptism is your Damascus road. Baptism is your death and resurrection. Heaven opens. The Light of the world dispels our darkness, sin, and death. And Jesus raises us to new life as the scales of unbelief fall from our hearts as we're given a new heart.
Our death and resurrection, just as it was for the Apostle formerly known as Saul, is founded upon the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection for the life of the world...for us chief of sinners. Jesus' death and resurrection is the greatest because it is both meaningful and true. It is history. Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. It is a verifiable, falsifiable, and defensible fact.
And yet, Jesus' death and resurrection do not cease to be a good story, one that possesses beauty, meaning, and true hope. As C.S. Lewis said, myth became fact.
Those who do not know that this great myth became Fact when the Virgin conceived are, indeed, to be pitied. But Christians also need to be reminded - we may thank Corineus for reminding us - that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a Myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about 'parallels' and 'Pagan Christs': they ought to be there - it would be a stumbling block if they weren't. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic...shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us, no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.
—C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact in God in the Dock,. Eerdmans, 1970, p. 67.
To Lewis's list I would also add that of director and author, film and literature. For the more I thought about all of this—Saul's death and resurrection, our own in Christ—the more I was reminded of the manifold death and resurrection stories in film and literature.
This is but a small list, and one that I hope will grow over time. Thanks to my good friends on Facebook for your contributions below. Feel free and add yours in the comments below.
Spock in Star Trek II, III, and IV
Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings, The Two Towers specifically.
Emmet in The Lego Movie
Optimus Prime... many, many times.
Chief Brody in Jaws. He goes under the water, he comes up out of the water, and then blows the shark to bits with a well-placed shot to an oxygen canister. Just like in baptism.
Wolverine in X-Men
Baloo in The Jungle book
The Beast in Beauty and the Beast
Caspian in The Silver Chair
Prince Rilian in The Silver Chair
Edmund in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Neo in The Matrix
The end of Watership Down
The Iron Giant
Flynn Rider in Tangled
Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead
Luke in the Percy Jackson series
Ransom in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy
John Coffey in The Green Mile
Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment
Baymax in Big Hero 6
Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy