January 06, 2009

Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful

by Erin Martin
Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

I remember my baptism very well.

It was fifteen years ago, and I felt that as a recent college graduate I was at a crossroads in my life. I remember that I wanted to start new, to wash away some of the painful choices I had made in my life and recommit myself to God. My mother was attending a Baptist church at the time, and so I sat before her pastor and expressed my earnest desire to be baptized. When he lowered me into the water and then raised me up again, the first air I breathed felt like new life to me. I felt like I had died and been raised with Christ.

Years later as an ordained Methodist minister the majority of the baptisms I perform look nothing like my own. Mostly I hold infants in my arms and pour water on their heads. Their rebirth in Christ will be far less tangible to them, but by no means less real.

I have come to understand that remembering one’s baptism has less to do with remembering the “experience” of one’s baptism and far more to do with remembering the “significance” of one’s baptism. While the experience of baptism is varied, the significance of baptism is unchanging. In baptism, all persons put on Christ, and for that we can be very thankful.

When Jesus goes to the River Jordan to be baptized by John it is not because Jesus is in need of repentance. From the beginning, John understands that the roles here are reversed. Jesus should be the one doing the baptizing. John declares that he is not even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandal strap, let alone be the one to lower Jesus into the water and raise him up. In Jesus’ baptism, the one who is greater submits to the one who is lesser, and it is the humility of this submission that reveals Jesus’ greatness to us.

In his Interpretation commentary, Lamar Williamson explains that Mark’s placement of the baptism narrative in the prologue to the gospel and not within the public ministry of Jesus serves to establish the identity and authority of Jesus. In Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are ripped apart in the same way that at Jesus’ death the Temple curtain is ripped from top to bottom. Williamson writes, “In both cases, what had long been sealed is suddenly flung open.”

With Jesus, the long-deferred prophetic hope is realized, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isa. 64:1). According to Williamson, the significance of Jesus’ baptism is that he is who God says he is, “beloved Son.” In the same way that Jesus’ baptism establishes his identity so too our baptism establishes our identity. The significance of our baptism is that we are who God says we are, beloved sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ.

Remembering our baptism entails glorying in Jesus’ identity as Son of God and glorying in our identities as children of God in Christ.

Clayton Schmit explains our deep connection to Christ through baptism in this way. He writes, “In Jesus’ baptism, he was fully identified with us as human creatures. In our baptism, we become fully identified with him. His life in God is our new life. His capacity to bend to God’s will is our strength to live a godly life. His love of all is our charity toward others.”

Remembering our deep connection with Christ in baptism has nothing to do with form, how much water is used, whether or not one is sprinkled or immersed.

Remembering our deep connection with Christ in baptism has everything to do with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes to us regardless in baptism.

Through the Holy Spirit we are made new. Through the Holy Spirit we have been clothed with Christ. Through the Holy Spirit we have been given the incredible gift of being made children of God. There is no greater gift. May we receive it with gratitude.

Thanks be to God!

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