“Let’s start from the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…”cue the Julie Andrews Sound of Music. Only, let our beginning be a story of the Christian faith & life…and that….starts at Baptism. There are a multitude of signs and symbols in Christian Baptism: initiation into the Body of Christ called the church, washing away of sin, having the Holy Spirit poured into our lives, and being set-apart from the rest of God’s creation, just to name a few. Even though all creation belongs to God, his children have been given a particular gift & task in this relationship of baptism.
All of life is transformed in Baptism…even death.
Paul says to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” Paul is speaking about his death.
In the ancient Mediterranean, culturally speaking, people stayed within unspoken boundaries. Allegiances were to common things like: family, culture, local rulers. With the Advent of Jesus Christ, those normal boundaries got blurred and broken. All of a sudden people who associated with Jesus were coming together across lines of culture, class and eventually religion. Even Paul, began his life persecuting the church of God and ultimately became one of its chief proponents. How do you think that played with his friends back home…the ones who still believed that Christians were troublemakers? In baptism, there was a death communicated in ritual practice. To more or less degree, people were out cast from their given communities for their association with Jesus, and they died to what came before.
If you came to have faith that God was acting in the world through the person and work of Jesus it changed everything. One of the earliest confessions of faith was the simple but weighty phrase “Jesus is Lord”. That was what the Roman Emperor had people say about him. To substitute “Caesar” with “Jesus” could get you in a world of trouble socially and politically, even cost you your life.
So early Christians knew that something grave (pardon the pun) and significant was happening in this practice of the Church. When we were in our sin we were “alien to the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”. Now, through baptism, many were being alienated in the opposite direction. Allegiance to Jesus brought a sword that “separated a man from his father…a daughter in-law against her mother-in-law”. In-laws can be hard enough before adding religion to the mix.
But…and I love big “Buts” in the Bible. (as a friend of mine is known to say)
At the same time we are separated from the old, we were drawn near and united to the living God in our baptism.
12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God[e] made you[f] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. - Colossians 2:12-14
For the people of Israel, circumcision was a sign of the covenant. It pointed to a deep reality that you were part of the people of God and all its promises and responsibilities. Now, in Christian baptism, being lowered into a watery grave, the old life that described you and the world you came from was put to death and somehow mysteriously united to Jesus Christ’s own death. You sins washed away, nailed to His cross, the sentence of “guilty” was replaced with “forgiven”.
Your life, your story could no longer be narrated without reference to the person and work of Jesus; the one who will save people from their sins.
Coming up from the water was the beginning of your new life in Christ, like the fluid of birth. This Happy exchange, what was mine (sin) was now taken up by Jesus and crucified with him. What was His (perfect love, forgiveness, freedom, a new identity) became mine. All begun in that act of baptism.
We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but made alive in Christ. The same way God raised Jesus from the dead, he will raise us as well. That begins now and will be brought to completion sometime in the future when Christ’s Kingdom comes in its fullness.
There is an old tradition in the church that we don’t see very often in contemporary protestant churches. At a funeral, a pall, was placed over every coffin at the church and then escorted to the grave. Picture a large cloth, sometimes fancy and ornate…sometimes a simple white cloth with a cross on it. This was a sign of every Christian’s baptism. At their death, when the world felt fragile and we’d only begun to experience their absence…the faithful gathered were reminded that as “John or Nancy or whomever…put on Christ in their baptism”…”In Christ may ‘they’ be clothed with glory” Their death was united to his in baptism, and so is their resurrection on the last day. Those who have “this hope purify themselves as Christ is pure.”