Baptism is serious business

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

The late bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, Tom Ray, rejoiced with many others when Holy Baptism was restored to its rightful liturgical centrality in the current Book of Common Prayer. It was no longer to be a private “after hours” event on Sunday (and often a social occasion too), but rather the very sacramental heartbeat of what it means for a person to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP, p. 308), and to live in Christian community.

But for Bishop Ray and many others this centrality was only the beginning. The solemnity of Baptism has also to be entered into if the lives and ministries of the baptized are to be fully realized and manifest. Since most baptisms at the main service on Sundays are usually of infants or young children, it is understandable that the tone will be one of delight, joy, pride, even cuteness. That’s fine. But what about baptismal solemnity? How is that woven into the celebration and awareness of what is unfolding not only for the child but for the rest of us as well? In short, how do we understand and realize that being baptized is very serious, solemn business?

Perhaps the words and wisdom of others can provide us with what is the tone and substance of this solemnity.  Here’s a sampling:

“Our life is not our own property but a possession of God. And it is this divine ownership that makes life a sacred thing.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

“I saw that God is everything that is good and energizing. God is our clothing that wraps, clasps, and encloses us so as to never leave us.” – Julian of Norwich

 

“The trouble with some of us is that we have been inoculated with small doses of Christianity which keep us from catching the real thing.” – Leslie Dixon Weatherhead

 

Flannery O’Connor

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

 

Jean Vanier with Kathy

“We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” – Jean Vanier

 

“To say that God is love is now too soft a phrase because of the sentimentality that has gathered around the word in the usage of the West, which enables many modern Christians to overlook the fact that the essence of the Kingdom of God according to Jesus is righteousness.” – Harry F. Ward

 

Desmond Tutu

“I cannot help it. When I see injustice, I cannot keep quiet. … The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian.” – Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu

Ministry in daily life, baptismal living and dying, is both joyful yet solemn, the vocation that comes when we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.”

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