Who doesn’t love a good baptism? It’s like Open House Party day at church – anticipation is in the air, everyone is excited and feels included. We’re actually getting (sorta) close to the next time (Easter Vigil) in our liturgical calendar when baptisms are invited; and at minimum nearly every Episcopal priest I know becomes giddy about the possibility of A BAPTISM!!!
This is a cold time of year to think about Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan, much less contemplate our own. The images that readily come to mind for me are newspaper accounts of Polar Bear Beach plunges along shorelines…or could happen if we were to gather around the bird bath (cleaned out of course) on our St. Francis path, when the air is the coldest in this part of coastal Carolina.
Most of us don’t dunk babies or adults in ice water during Epiphany Baptisms. Dressed in snugly warm and fashionable clothing, they and we gather indoors for a discrete sprinkling, whose discomfort is soon wiped away as the child is returned to the secure embrace of parental arms.
When the season of Epiphany encourages us, however, to contemplate in such moments of worship our own Baptisms, we are being called to ask whether our life as “Christ’s own” has been, or should be, most like the snug infant or more like an occasional plunge into the icy waters of mid-winter Jordan River? For the mark with which we have made in Baptism, as “Christ’s own for ever” is the sign of the cross. It is the cold sign of cruel suffering, death and the tomb. It is a sign that should bring with it a shiver of recognition, a moment of hesitation about what we have gotten ourselves, and those babies, into. This mark is not to be placed on a person in Baptism, or repeated as a pious gesture, without giving us pause, making us ask whether, and in what way, it is also a redemptive mark, a sign of salvation.
I’m not asking us to be melodramatic…yet Christ’s way, once we recognize and follow it as Christ’s disciples, is a way that leads toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. And it raises for us in our faith journeys the question: Is trusting in this cross sheer foolishness, the spiritual equivalent of the polar bear plunge? Or is there indeed something redemptive about God’s participation in our suffering and our participation in the suffering of others?
These are questions that Baptism assumes are best answered in community—thus Baptism is the rite of initiation into the community of the church, within which our spiritual journey will be undertaken, and within which such questions are to be faced. And these are questions that Baptism assumes can best be answered by those fed through the Eucharist, which gives us ‘strength and courage to love and serve’ God compassionately.
The sign of the cross is a redemptive mark. It is the deepest indication of God’s eternal love for us. But it is not the last word. It indelibly reminds us that God raises us out of the waters of Baptism as Christ is to be lifted up from the cross. In Baptism we have been marked with the new life and reconciling love of the very one who compassionately made us in God’s own image, Sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are already God’s own, for ever.
Are you ready to be baptized? Lets talk or talk with the priest in your parish. Better yet, IMAGINE one holy and mighty Wilmington Easter Vigil baptism, where all are welcome to Come and See the power of Christ in all our interconnected lives. Blessed love is yours, NLJ+