Baptism is central to our faith, but many Christians are not really sure how to explain. They can usually describe it. It involves water, either full emersion or pouring or sometimes sprinkling water on the baptismal candidateut do you know what exactly baptism is? -that is the question for us to ponder today day.
What is baptism? Far more than dipping someone in water, the late Fr. Lazarus Moore-a deceased Russian Orthodox priest, wrote a book some years ago entitled Baptism as Thirty Celebrations wherein he enumerates as thirty blessings that God bestows opon us in holy baptism. He describes baptism as, "evidence that God's love holds nothing back. He showers His blessings upon us in infant baptism even before we can know Him in what is pure grace.
So, what is Baptism?
Baptism is passage through the Red Sea of sin.
St. Augustine wrote, “Your sins are your enemies. They will follow you, but only up to the Red Sea . When you have entered (the Red Sea through baptism), you will escape: they (your sins) will be destroyed, just as the Egyptians were engulfed by the waters while the Israelites escaped on dry land.”
Thus baptism is a liberating act, an Easter experience, an exodus, a passage through the Red Sea of sin and death to the freedom to be the children of God, and is the transition from the world that is under the power of the evil to the world that has been redeemed by Jesus.
Baptism is a tomb, our pool of Bethesda (as St. Ambrose says), wherein the Holy Spirit consecrates this water that we enter to bathe in the many blessings of God's grace.
Through baptism God adopts us as His very own child and makes us heirs of his kingdom. He makes us members of His own, royal family. As with any family, members of God's family are related to each other and responsible for each other.
Baptism is more than all of this, however, for it is through baptism that we are attached to Christ, because we become members of Jesus' own body. Each baptized Christian becomes an extension of Christ.
We become little Christs, as it were, in the world (or perhaps more precisely extensions of Christ), as we become His eyes, His tongue, His hands, and His feet. Christ has chosen to work in the world through us –for we are the members of His body. It is our responsibility as the baptized to re-present Christ to the world as baptized Christians.
Christ has emptied himself, made Himself dependent on the Baptized to do His work in the world. Christ is the head of the Church, but what can the head do without hands or feet or eyes?
In baptism the members of Christ's body are anointed with the sign of the cross to signify that they are now dedicated to serve God since they are now members of His Body. Baptism is the sacrament of belonging to that Body.
Baptism is God laying claim to you.
Our patron, St. Paul, says, “You are not your own, you are bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.”
God does not rent you; he buys you and holds title to you. You might even say Jesus owns you for through baptism you become a child of God by adoption. But God does so for a purpose because he has a plan for you.
The baptized are saved from sin.
The baptized are saved for service the service of love, for good works, for making the kingdom of God a larger and a better place.
The baptized have life that has meaning and value.
“I know My sheep,” said Jesus said in the Gospel reading a few weeks ago. “No one can pluck them out of my hand.”
Following baptism you are the property of God. You have the authority to say to evil, “Unhand me, for I do not I belong to you but to God. I am His property, and, thus, you have no claim over me.”
Baptism is the sacrament of new birth, as the creation of a new person in Jesus Christ, born anew of water and of the Spirit. Physical birth is a gift with which you have nothing to do. A second birth, being “born-again” as some traditions in Christianity call it, is also something with which you have little to do. It is a gift of God through baptism into God's grace at the font.
After baptism every person is a new and living member of Christ's body. He or she is no longer a mere mortal, but is transformed and transfigured and begotten as God's own son or daughter. The baptized carry with them the very life of God.
Baptism Church is far more than the remission or forgiveness of sin(s), though this comes as a surprise to many in Western Christianity. The dominant theme of baptism is actually positive, though we in the shadow of St. Augustine tend to view it as negative. Many people think baptism is all about bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness as it says in the Rite I language of our prayerbook. Baptism according to the bible usually is described in positive terms, however, like new birth, redemption, being clothed, washed and anointed, as a gift, sealed, etc.
If the only meaning of baptism is forgiveness of sins, why would The Church baptize newborns who have not yet sinned? Because the mystery of baptism is not limited to sins:
Baptism is a promise of greater gifts.
Baptism is a type of the future resurrection.
Baptism is a participation in the Master's passion, death, and resurrection.
Baptism is blessing of a mantle of salvation, a tunic of gladness, a garment of light, or even more properly, light itself.
Baptism does more than set us free from the bondage of original sin.
Baptism clothes us with Christ, for as our patron, St. Paul, says to the Galatians, “As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ.”
Through baptism we are betrothed to Christ. Christ is our Bridegroom. The Church is his Bride. We enter into a marriage relationship with Christ that requires faithfulness and love.
Through baptism we “put on Christ.”
If we have put on Christ, then we have put on His love, we put on attributes like forgiveness, grace, and long suffering.
For if we have put on Christ, we have put on His servanthood: “If I have washed your feet, so then should you wash one another's feet.”
If we have put on Christ, then we too shall suffer; we, too, shall be persecuted, and we, too, shall be resurrected as Jesus was resurrected, and we shall ascend to the Father as as Jesus did.
We shall partake of God's divine nature and share in Christ's glory, becoming “gods by grace” as some of the early Church Fathers see it, that is as the recovery of the “robe of glory”, lost by Adam during the fall.
Baptism demands a personal response on the part of the baptized, particularly when he or she grows up. The child must accept what God did for him or her in baptism and make it his or her own.
For baptism is not a free pass, a divine Get of Hell free card, that will get us into heaven-no questions asked. A baptized Christian – especially in the Churches in which infant baptism is practiced – needs to make a personal decision regarding the Christian faith which he or she has inherited from his Christian upbringing
Any relationship has to be developed by the two parties involved. The baptized child has not yet developed a relationship with God (or perhaps is in a perfect relationship with God that will not last long). But God in this relationship has already taken the initiative: God loves us from the first moment of our conception and takes steps to establish a relationship. Infant baptism is an expression of God's love from the first possible moment of life.
In years to come, as the baptized child grows and becomes aware of Jesus Christ, he or she will look back and realize that something or someone led them along life's path, whether they were conscious of it at the time or not. Eventually, they come to realize that it was baptism when God came to him or her. This leads to a personal and adult level relationship.
Baptism is not mere belonging to a Church, for there is no magic in Christianity, but the acceptance of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter said, “Repent, and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
In baptism there is something that is done by God and something that is done by man. Man responds to God's initiative by accepting the gift and turns with faith to follow Jesus as Lord.
The new life, started by baptism and sustained by Holy Communion, becomes the way to follow as one makes a way on life's path. Salvation is not necessarily an instant thing like text messaging. Baptism is only the beginning of the path, when we renounce the devil and all his works, receive Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
From that moment we begin a process of growth. Our salvation (some call this deification) begins at baptism and continues throughout our whole life. “Work out your salvation with Fear and Trembling,” writes St. Paul (Phil. 2:12).
Most of all, baptism is the beginning of a journey. A journey where, like Abraham, we meet three visitors. Visitors that we might not understand or perceive at first, bit in the fullness of our life, we come to know and understand as the Triune God.