We began the new year with Epiphany, and now comes baptism. It’s God’s outlandish promise that we are passing through the watery grave of death (in all its forms) into new life. It’s the promise that God is with us, calling forth life from death, always.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…: (Isaiah 43:1-2).
With You I am Well Pleased
Unfortunately, baptism is often reduced to a ceremony of moral cleansing and an initiation rite into the institutional body of a particular church. If we get stuck at this level we will miss the greater significance of baptism. It is a sacrament of the paschal mystery—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To be baptized into the paschal mystery is to be initiated into much more than institutional morality (which always oppresses, especially the most vulnerable who can’t measure up). It is to be initiated into a new humanity—one that knows itself as God’s beloved: “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Judgment Gives Way to Joy
Baptism is an initiation into our most sacred vocation—to become fully human and know ourselves loved by God. No moral system, no matter how good, can produce this vocation. We become human, not through morality, but by receiving and giving mercy. The moral cleansing model leaves us forever judging, evaluating, excluding, and existing as something less than human. But when we experience the paschal mystery we find ourselves in a much larger space where judgment gives way to joy.
Each day I renew my baptism with this prayer:
Lord of Life, baptize us again in the sea of your love where we release our useless fears and relax into your mercy. Inside this new love we die to all that is false. By your power made perfect in weakness, awaken us to the mystery of life. Speak to us again the truth of our deepest identity hidden in you: “You are my child whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”
I am convinced that our world, especially the vulnerable urban communities we serve, is longing for the baptism of its own belovedness. The moral cleansing model is being crushed under the weight of its own condemnation. We are desperate for joy in place of judgment. When we are baptized in the sea of God’s love and relax into God’s mercy, all that is false dies and is buried in the watery grave, and we are resurrected into a new humanity—one that knows itself and all of creation as God’s beloved. This is the sacramental sign of baptism. This is what the world is dying to receive. Jesus transformed a ceremony of moral cleansing into a sacrament of life and he is calling forth a new generation of baptizers who are ready to do the same!
May we swim, splash, relax, and, yes, even die inside the sea of God’s love so that we might know ourselves and this world anew and fall madly in love with life again.*