Do you remember your baptism? Like many people, I was baptized as an infant, so I have no recollection of mine. My baptism took place at the Huntingdon Methodist Church in Huntingdon, PA. My parents met in the choir at that church and were married there, so it was fitting, if not memorable. In my career I have participated in hundreds of baptisms, and the sacrament is one that is joyful and bathed in hope every single time.
Methodists mark the baptism of Jesus with a special service where we invite people to remember their own baptisms. This is an invitation to remember not so much when of your baptism, but the why. Why do Christians baptize? What happens in baptism?
First, it is important to remember who the agent is in a baptism, and here is a hint: it’s not you. Even if you were an adult and took your own vows, you are not the star of the show. God is the focus, and we acknowledge that he is the one who has called you to that moment. This is the reason why United Methodists do not re-baptize. We understand that a baptism is a result of the power of God in a person’s life and thus does not need to be repeated, regardless of whether or not the person stayed on a righteous path. People may falter, but God doesn’t make mistakes. There is no need to re-do what God has already done.
And so the vows renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness; repenting of sins; accepting God’s freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression; putting your whole trust in Christ’s saving grace; pledging to serve God and all God’s people, etc. all come together in that holy moment. Water is used symbolically to signify a new beginning…. a cleansing, as it were….and an acknowledgement of God’s mighty acts of salvation through water and the Spirit. We are named and claimed.
When John baptized people in the Jordan River, he spoke of Jesus, who would perform baptisms of the Holy Spirit, not just water.
Mark 1:4-8 (The Message)
4-6 John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
7-8 As he preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
9-11 At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
The Spirit, like a dove, descended and God claimed Jesus as his son. I think God says the same thing with every baby, confirmand, squirming teenager, and wide-eyed adult whom we baptize. I think heaven opens up every time and God looks at that person and says, “You are my child, whom I dearly love; you are the pride of my life.”
Ponder your baptism today and remember why you were baptized. As you remember, be thankful. And if you’ve never been baptized and you’re ready, find a preacher with a pitcher! It’s never too late.
Come to the Waters by Jill Selfe