L.L. was baptized as a baby in her mother's arms, and then later baptized as a teenager in the evangelical church they were attending. Neither meant anything to her in terms of what baptism meant to the early church, with those who submitted themselves to this ancient rite, beginning with John the Baptizer's ministry- from what we read in Scripture and know from Jewish tradition.
Water symbolizes or brings with it life and chaos, fear and death in Scripture. In the rite of baptism we have a symbol and reenactment of what happens to the believer through Jesus' descent into death and ascent into life by the resurrection. Someday to be completely and perfectly fulfilled, this begins in our lives even now in Jesus by faith. It is meant to be a marker for us, a reminder, indeed an enactment that we have crossed over from death to life, from the wilderness wandering to the promised land.
In light of everything that water meant to these ancients, descending into its depths during baptism is like opening a door - inviting curious onlookers to peer into the chaos, hear the beating of a dragon heart, lament how the soul seems crushed by weight of darkness. In the same instant it's an invitation to expectation. A rescue is being played out. A creation is being enacted. The one who descends celebrates ascension to a re-created life that teems with lilies and peaches, eagles and red-eyed tree frogs. (p. 50)Like L.L., I too have been baptized twice. The first time in my church as a teenager after I went forward in an evangelistic meeting mainly to satisfy my mother and relieve the pressure to make a commitment, wondering if it would make a difference in my life, which ultimately it did not. I can hardly remember it, just that it happened. Later, after truly committing my life to Christ I was immersed in a baptistery in a Baptist church that was borrowed by the church I attended in college. It surely meant more to me then. But not as much as it would mean to me now. Though I believe we can look back on our baptisms and more appreciate their meaning for us later. Like L.L. reminds us, we understand better the meaning of what we do, often after we do it than when we do it.
Baptism to the early Christians and tied to the Jewish rite of mikvah, meant a completely new life for the convert to Judaism, and it meant that one was marked for life, like dyed cloth through Jesus' death as "a worm crushed for crimson dye." (p 51)
Wouldn't it be nice if after our water baptism expressive of faith in Jesus and new life in him out of death, we would always live up to that and our new identity in him! In Jesus our lives are changed, but more like Jacob who wrestled with God. We still struggle and experience setback as if to bring us to that place which baptism so vividly pictures. Descent into death as we despair of ourselves, and ascent into life as we truly look to God and experience more of the resurrection life in Jesus. So that baptism is a picture not only of our entrance into the Christian life, but reminds us of what we're being saved from- our old self and sin, and what we're saved to- our real identity and life in Jesus. Yet our lives in this reality are hit with "struggle and setback". We must press on in the meaning of our baptism, daily. And an important ongoing part of that is our struggle and setback as we continue to put to death what belongs to our old life in Adam, and put on what belongs to our new life in Jesus.
Read this chapter (and book!!!). L.L. gets her point across wonderfully well, and it's one to remember and ponder as we live during this time in which our salvation is yet to be made entirely complete.
What about you? What does baptism mean to you? And what does that mean for your life today?
Next week: Palisade Cliffs - doubt