Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on Easter, April 21.
Accountability and responsibility are not the same thing. Accountability contains an element of external constraint — there is someone outside of us who has power over us and to whom we therefore must give account. For instance: God on Judgment Day.
Responsibility, on the other hand, responds to situations out of internalized values and so contains an element of freedom and accepts consequences. For instance: life in the Kingdom of God.
My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Fauchier, insisted I make my cursive letters like those of the Palmer Method she was teaching us. I told her I didn’t like all those loops and curls. She then applied external constraint, saying that she would hold me accountable and give me a bad grade if I didn’t write the way she wanted me to write.
But I chose freedom and took responsibility for my decision to do otherwise, telling her “you do what you need to do and I’ll do what I need to do.”
Now saying that to her face was not a smart move for a sixth grader and she did give me a D in penmanship. But it was worth it! No one cares that I got a D in penmanship in sixth grade. Indeed, these days many students are not even taught cursive writing at all! I was willing to accept this D as the price of freedom, as the consequence of asserting my own identity. Of course, another consequence is that some people today have difficulty reading my handwriting.
Easter is a drama of external constraint on the part of Jesus’ adversaries who want to hold him accountable, and freedom, internal motivation, on the part of Jesus. The religious authorities gave him an F in theology and the political authorities executed him as a threat to their hold on power.
Jesus accepted these consequences not only as the price of his freedom, but more importantly of ours. He knew that once dead, sin no longer has power over us and he had long since died to this world. The masters of this world can’t compel the dead to do anything. External temptations can no longer induce us to sin. And now he offers that same freedom to us.
Easter is the celebration of the fact that evil does not have the last word, freedom does. Our bodies can be crushed, but no force on earth and none in hell can take away our will. Our will, our internal motivation is ours. Indeed, death to self brings freedom already in this life. The grave could not hold Jesus’ body. His resurrection is conclusive proof that the light is more powerful than the darkness.
Easter is a day of baptisms and professions of faith. Often we miss the point that we are baptized into Jesus’ death. It is to the degree that we share in his death, that we will also share in his victory.
In baptism we die with Jesus sacramentally, and once dead, sin no longer has power over us. From this point forward, if we sin, it will not be because of external constraint and or because the devil made us do it. If we sin now, it will be because we freely chose to do so. And so we are not merely accountable for our actions as under the inflexible law of the Old Covenant, we are now responsible for our actions in the New Covenant of freedom which fulfills the Old.
Today we celebrate baptisms and renew our baptismal promises. Baptism achieves its full effect only when we transfer our allegiance from the enslaving disvalues of this world to the freedom of life in Christ. In dying to this world we say, in effect, “world, you do what you need to do and I’ll do what I need to do.” Like with Jesus, those in power who benefit from an evil status quo may flex their muscles, force us to accept some consequences, give us a D in civics, or maybe even an F — we see this in politics a lot these days.
But if we have died to this world, it has no more power over us and the things it can do are a small price to pay for freedom and life.
Today is Jesus’ day of victory. It can be our day of victory too. Those who are united with Jesus in likeness to his death will share in a like resurrection. This share in Jesus’ victory begins in this life for those who have been born again in baptism and live already the life of the Kingdom of God. And it continues in eternal life for those who share fully in Jesus’ victory.
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