In the early church, baptism took place annually at the first celebration of the resurrection on Easter Eve for those who had been duly prepared. As we enter into the season of Easter, having spent Lent reflecting on our baptismal vows, let us consider and celebrate the sacrament of Baptism.
While the Christian baptism has similarities to the Jewish purification rite of Mikvah, it is important for Christians to recognise that there are significant differences. Christian baptismal theology began evolve and become more articulate beginning in the late third century.
As Anglicans, our baptism is conferred in the name of the Trinity, and is not repeated; even though we choose to sin, the grace of the Spirit invites us “to rise again, and amend our lives.” This sacrament is one of two “ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel,” which sets us apart as Christians, with all the benefits and responsibilities that come from being welcomed into the family of God. (See the Articles of Religion, BCP pp 698-714)
The baptised experience and profess a complete spiritual change, demonstrated by a series of physical changes during the sacrament (whether poured or immersed): the move from air to water and back; the temporary cessation and recommencement of breathing, and in immersion the subjection to gravity being removed and then restored. We undertake this sacrament with a change of heart, which will ideally change our intentions and actions, as we commit ourselves to living in right relationship with God and with the world around us.
Our baptism reminds us that we are equally beloved in the eyes of God; as a rite of initiation and inclusion, it is not conferred based on socio-economic status, geography, or any other human divide. Rather, it stands to remind everyone who witnesses and partakes of the equality given to God’s family: the sacrament of baptism is the same for all, regardless of earthly circumstance.
At the celebration of baptismal vows and covenant, I envision involvement takes place in increasing, concentric circles, much like ripples in water. At the centre, there is immediate connection between the individual and God. Next, those who are closest: the priest, parents, and godparents (sponsors) who make their vows of support. Next, the family, friends, and congregation witnessing the event make their declaration of support. Next, the sacrament of baptism makes a connection ebtween the individual being baptised and every other baptised in the world; there is knowledge that we are called to pray for those we know to be baptised (and trusting they will pray for us too!). And the final ‘ripple’ connects the baptised with the unbaptised of the world, demonstrating the benefits of the faith to those who have not yet received the sacrament.
Baptism is not a one-time event, but a life-long commitment. It is a sacred contract, one to be prayerfully considered and celebrated. It offers us not just a public acknowledgement of connection and promise to God through our vows, but an opportunity to celebrate that we firmly and deeply believe in the promises of salvation, redemption, and eternal life that God has promised to us. We pray, we declare the creed, we die to sin and rise to newness of life, we are marked indelibly as Christ’s own forever, we receive the new light of Christ, we are welcomed into the household of God.
Thus, we make our vows, with the intention of living those vows all our days, humbly declaring: “I will, with God’s help.” For we know that we cannot live the life of faith alone; and it is only through an active and vibrant relationship with God that community that we will truly live the risen life.