Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taking the Plunge: A Holy Saturday Meditation on Baptism...

While walking to church yesterday, a man approached me and said, “Excuse me, sir. My wife and I moved here a couple of years ago, and we have a child that we would like to get baptized.  What would it take to get him baptized here?” 

After asking him a couple of questions, I invited him to phone to set up a time to meet.    Then he asked, “So how much is this going to cost?” 
I said, “Oh, not too much....only your life....only your child’s life!  Call me when you’re ready.” 
I’m not sure if he appreciated the humour, but I think he understood the point. 

Baptism is not a ten minute ceremony, but a lifelong relationship.  Baptism is not a formality, but a joyful response to the gift of faith.

We baptize because we believe.   We believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and God, as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The very word “baptize” means to “plunge” or “immerse” (CCC #1214).   So St. Paul’s teaching on Baptism could also go like this:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus were plunged into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by plunging into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).

In many ancient churches, the baptismal 'font' was more like a small pit.  Three steps led the one to be baptized down into the shallow pit.  The three steps represented the three days the body of Jesus remained in the tomb.  After being baptized, the new Christian emerged by way of another three steps, united with the Risen Lord who rose on the third day. 

On Baptism, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a great theologian of the early church, wrote:
“Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift.... It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship” (CCC #1216).

Soon after I was ordained, a friend of mine said to me, “May you never get used to being a priest!”  (Thankfully this hasn’t happened yet!)   My Easter prayer for you is similar:  May you never get used to being a Christian! May you live as one who has been plunged into the life and “love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39) and walk always “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).