Sunday Spotlight: The Water's Fine
With the Baptism of Jesus our calendar year and our liturgical year are off to a powerful start. Every Baptism fulfils the hope of new life in Christ. Every baptized infant, every eager convert is a potential Aquinas or Augustine, a Mother Teresa or a Florence Nightingale. Every Baptism refreshes the vigor of the Body of Christ. This week's gospel re-introduces us to the wellspring of this grace… Christ's Baptism in the Jordan and the promise of our own Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
In preparing this message I came across an esoteric but hardly trivial fact about the origin of the word: Baptism. From the Greek, the word means to ceremonially wash. But it has a deeper meaning that does not readily translate into English. A clue to that deeper meaning can be found in a very unlikely source… a Greek cookbook written at roughly the same time as Mark’s gospel. As any good cook can tell you, there are two distinct steps to pickle making. The first step documented in this ancient cook book is called the “bapto.” That is when the cucumber is thoroughly washed in boiling water. The second step is called the “baptizo” or baptism. That is when the cucumber is immersed in a vinegar solution… transforming the cucumber to a pickle… an entirely new and different entity. And that is what happens to us in baptism. We are more than washed. We are transformed. We become an entirely new and different entity.
Through Baptism, Christ claims us for his own. We are with him and of him… from the manger to the miracles… from the Nativity to the Resurrection ... now and for all time to come. That is the power of Baptism... a massive infusion of grace, transforming our short, self-centered mortal lives into an infinite continuum of earthly and heavenly life… our rebirth as blessed, beloved children of God. While Baptism initiates us into the ranks of the saved, it has its obligations along with its privileges. It was never meant to create a body of cruise-control Christians, completely indistinguishable from our secular neighbors. Through Baptism we are given ready access to God's grace. It is there for the asking. But it is not a get-out-of-jail card for us to horde, to squander or to neglect as our whim would have it. Baptism is a life-long commitment to Christ; to follow him in all things, to witness his love; to openly believe in the face of sinicism and scorn.
God’s grace is free… but it is not cheap. It was bought and paid for by the life and death of Jesus Christ. We are not only cleansed and revived by the waters of Baptism, as Revelations tells us: We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. And we are never the same again. In Christ we die to sin; we plunge into the waters of Baptism and we re-emerge spiritually resurrected and re-born, setting out confidently on the road to salvation.
The recipe for all these wonders is definitely not: Say a few prayers, add some water and presto out pops an instant Christian. Baptism is a start not a finish. It initiates a lifelong commitment. It requires embracing a life created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and consecrated by the Holy Spirit. The life we have been given by God is pledged back to him in Baptism. We are Christians. We are his people. We follow him in all things. We are not too shy, too cool or too politically correct to proclaim him publicly every chance we get.
Francis Thompson, creator of the haunting "Hound of Heaven," wrote of the joy of living reborn in God's grace: It is to have a spirit continually streaming afresh with the waters of Baptism. Every day Jesus invites us to take this plunge, to recreate our newly baptized selves, to follow him with renewed confidence and energy. He calls to us: Take a chance on Jesus. Come on in. The water's fine.