Sunday, January 30, 2005

Baptism Part II

Baptism is perhaps the most important sacrament of the church in terms of what it means to be initiated into the community of believers. But Baptism is more than just some sort of mindless initiation ceremony or rite of passage. From the earliest days of Christianity, the rite of Baptism has been viewed in terms of death and re-life. It is through Baptism that we become full members of the body of Christ by entering the tomb of Christ in the baptismal font, and as it says on page 308, the newly baptized “are raised to the new life of grace.”.
Baptism in some ways is like the process of going into the military. You are not immediately sworn in and begin full time service as a soldier on a base right after you walk into and out of the recruiter's office. By law, the recruiter has to give you an amount of time as a “cooling off period” to make sure you are not being impulsive and doing something that you will regret the next day. Often the recruiter will talk with you several times in the course of days, give you some reading to do, such as what to expect, etc.
Even after this period, the process does not end there. You begin the entire process of Boot Camp. You learn the basics of being a soldier. Physical and mental fortitude are tested; and you learn practical survival skills like how to clean and fire a rifle or march in formation. And for those of you who have been through boot camp will know, it is a time of personal reflection: do I really want to do this or am I going to wash out and go back to my old life?
But perhaps the most important aspect of boot camp is learning to be not just a soldier as an individual, but as a member of a squad, a platoon, and a regiment. Community, though they do not use that term in boot camp, is very much a part of getting through boot camp. The soldier has to learn that they can no longer do whatever they want, whenever they want. The soldier has to be a part of the team. In a combat situation, if the soldier cannot be counted on as part of the larger team, the mission may fail. In many ways, boot camp is like death. The potential soldier essentially dies as an individual and becomes a member of the platoon is boot camp really finished. Then, and only then, are you get sworn in as a soldier in a formal boot camp commissioning ceremony.
In terms of Christianity, we have adult inquirer's classes and what used to be called the catechumenate process. Of course there is no yelling or running close order formation drills, but essentially what happens before adult baptism is a boot camp of theology. You learn the basics of what it means to be Christian and how important it is, not just on the individual level, but to become a member of the body of Christ, that is to say, the whole community. When all this is completed, in the sacrament of Baptism is a person “given the oath.”
The font and the water we use in Baptism are not just some leftover and meaningless early Christian razing ritual or coming of age event, it was a merging of ourselves with Christ. To be initiated into the body of Christ through imitating Christ's passion and death ourselves, by the learning experience of the catechumenate process, is there greater understanding of Christ's sacrifice and what it means to be Christian. To die with Christ and to be resurrected with Christ through the baptismal font is “to be born again from the font, as Christ did by rising again from the tomb,” as St. Augustine states.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I found Alan Kreider's The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom to be a helpful little book explaining the practices of catechism in a helpful way.