What does it mean to be baptized?
Seems like a good question for today as we gather to celebrate the baptism of Wendy, something we’re looking forward to in just a few minutes.
What does your baptism mean to you? It’s a bit of a tricky question, isn’t it? Most of us were baptized as infants, so we don’t even remember our baptisms! And baptism has more than one meaning, in fact it is overflowing with layers of meaning, as is fitting for one of the most important sacraments of our shared faith. Baptism makes us who we are, both as individuals and as a community.
So what does it mean to be baptized? What will this mean for Wendy today? The scriptures that we just read provide some insight.
The ancient text from the prophet Isaiah, even though it predates Christian baptism by hundreds of years, it’s still a foundational text for us. It is a beautiful poem through which God speaks to us, just as God speaks to us through baptism today. In this poem and in baptism, God says to each one of us, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” And then, God says to you, in one of scriptures’ most intimate and beautiful verses:
“You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.”
You know, if we were to remember just one thing about baptism, if you were to know just one thing about your baptism, this would be the thing to remember. God says to each one of us, God will say in a few moments to Wendy, “you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.”
This would be enough, enough to change a life. But of course there is much more.
John the Baptist went into the wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. This too, is the meaning of baptism. Baptism is a fresh start. The opportunity to let go of the past and to start again. A “do-over”, a reorientation, a new perspective, a new lease on life, a moment of transformation, a liberation, a new beginning. This is a meaning of baptism that has particular significance when it is an adult such as Wendy who presents herself for baptism. Baptism is a fresh start.
Jesus went out to the wilderness where John was baptizing, and “Jesus also was baptized.” Some have wondered why. Did Jesus need a fresh start? Well, yes there is a sense in which he did. Jesus’ baptism becomes the launching pad for his public ministry in Galilee. But through his submission to baptism, Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Son of God, also conveys a profound sense of solidarity with humanity and an astounding humility. Jesus came as one of us, and was baptized just as each one of us was baptized. Baptism means that Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are in solidarity with each other, and that we bear a posture of humility towards each other and towards God.
And there is more. When Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
To be baptized is to be born anew as a child of God, as one of God’s family. “You are my Son.” “You are my daughter.” “You are my child.” We are family, children of God, brothers and sisters and siblings connected by the sacrament of baptism through the ages and across the continents. Baptism brings with it this profound sense of connection, with each other, and with God, as God’s children.
And not just connection, but also blessing, love and favour. Echoing the words spoken by God to each one of us through Isaiah, Jesus receives his Father’s affirmation and blessing at his baptism. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These words certainly affirm the unique vocation that was Jesus’. But they are also the words spoken to each one of us at our own baptism. In a few moments God will say to Wanyi through baptism, “you are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
And there is more: as Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In baptism, we receive the very Spirit of God as a powerful force in our lives. Which is pretty amazing, to have the Spirit that swept over the waters in the very beginning, creating the heavens and the earth, to have that Spirit in us and with us and upon us: inspiring, empowering, teaching, guiding, encouraging and enabling us as we move into the new way of life signified by baptism. In baptism, and through prayer, which is one of the hallmarks of the baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit in our lives.
That’s what our scriptures today have to say about the meaning of baptism.
For us, for Wendy today, baptism means all of this and more. Not only is it a sign of becoming part of God’s family, but it is also the sign of becoming part of this family, this community of Trinity, which is a visible expression of the family of God and the body of Christ here in Ottawa South. Just as Jesus’ baptism was a statement of solidarity with us and a posture of humility, our baptism is a statement of our solidarity with Jesus and our posture of humility. As Wendy is baptized and as we all renew our own baptisms and repeat once more the vows of our baptismal covenant together, we are pledging to follow Jesus and to embrace the new way of life that he taught us and showed us. Baptism is after all the sign and sacrament of our new life as followers of Jesus, of our life in Christ.
And all of this is just some of what it means to be baptized.
Homily. Yr C Baptism of our Lord. Jan 9 2022. Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 43.1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22