In my last column we looked at the Lord’s Supper. Today, we take a look at the other sign our Lord Jesus instituted among us. These signs, or sacraments, which God gives his people are both simple and profound. In their simplicity, God’s grace is powerfully pictured. In their profundity, there is polyvalent meaning. So baptism clearly and compellingly speaks to us of God’s grace in washing us clean of our sin. The imagery of water used to wash is universal and timeless. So as pilgrims journeying to heaven we are reassured that God has washed us, as baptised people, from the sin that would hold us back.
Since God is infinite in wisdom, his communications to us are profound and have delightful depths. So baptism feeds and equips us for our pilgrimage in many ways: Baptism is linked with God washing away the idols that soften beguile and seduce us. ‘From all your idols I will cleanse you.’ (Ezk. 36:25) Baptism is not a once for all magical automatic removal of idols – for baptism is linked with ongoing teaching and discipleship.
So Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to observe all that I commanded.” (Mt. 28:19-20) Baptism looks back not only to the death of Jesus but also reassures us of our certain future resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5). Baptism is the shared mark of membership that belongs to all God’s people – as a result our valuing of baptism is one way we cultivate unity. There is ‘one baptism.’ (Eph. 4:5)
Whether we were baptised recently or decades ago, all pilgrims need sometimes to be reminded of their baptism. We ponder it not to prize a fossilised tradition, nor to repeat endlessly a simple lesson that is clear to all. Rather we appreciate more and more the depths of meaning and encouragement God gives us in his visual word to us. Sin, disunity, idols, and ignorance beset us in many ways and at varied times. Our shared baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit directs our hearts to God’s grace, teaching and the gift of one another, which helps us along.
Our Lord Jesus was himself baptised – it surprised John that his Lord would humble himself to that. One reason he did this was to alert us to the fact that baptism is one of the gifts God gives his people, that we are to cherish, value and celebrate. The benefits for all of our earthly pilgrimage are manifold. So wonderful are they – that we are not to keep them to ourselves. A baptised people is a missionary people. So Jesus said, ‘Make disciples of all nations, baptising them…”
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk