Thursday, January 16, 2003

Administration of Baptism

From Paul we know we’re baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and we’re baptized – immersed – into a boundless community. So concerning administration of baptism, we need to ask what is the Good Friday / Easter proclamation into which we’re baptized? And what are the characteristics and the qualities of the Galatians 3:28 community?

The first verse of the first lesson for the first Sunday of Advent (our current year B): “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” —Isaiah 64:1

Though sometimes we refer to the sacraments as “efficacious,” which generally is defined as their being channels of grace or as having “saving power,” the sacraments themselves don’t save; so denying either sacrament to anyone doesn’t mean we’re refusing them the wholeness and the now-ness of God’s actualization of the time of salvation in Christ Jesus. God’s extravagance indisputably doesn’t depend upon the church’s performing the sacraments – the sacraments remain signs of grace; they don’t actualize grace. The sacraments signify and replicate the Christ Event rather than actually being the salvific Christ Event. Yahweh’s neither needing nor requiring protection or tribute from the people was one of the many revolutionary and sensational aspects of Israel’s God and consonant with that reality; many of you observed God’s faithfulness no way is limited to those of us who celebrate sacramental liturgies; God cannot do other than be faithful to her / his essence of redemptive love for all creation.

And I agree when Don suggests what an awesome model of the inclusivity of God’s Sovereignty it is to welcome and to baptize the stranger in our midst – the outcast who may never again be in our community’s presence. As Abraham Heschel reminds us, God is an outcast, God is in exile, and as Jesus tells us, when we minister to the sojourner, the “other,” the not-like-us, we serve Jesus – in fact we serve the Wholly and Holy Other Whom Jesus manifests and represents. Since God excludes no one from this New Sovereignty no matter what, how can we exclude anyone from the font or from the table? But do we need to baptize or celebrate Eucharist? Though Jesus did command us to baptize and to remember him with bread and cup…

Throughout the biblical witness are a proliferation of “types” or foreshadowings of the decisive reconciliation between heaven and earth, the ultimate experience of heaven-on-earth and earth-in-heaven in the Christ Event, but finally, Good Friday / Easter Sunday declares and completes (with God word and action form a single indissoluble entity) God’s ultimate and definitive covenant of grace with all creation. The early morning light of Easter dawn pronounces and reveals with physical, material symbols we humans can comprehend: empty tomb, stone rolled away, speech…the presence of the Eschaton: the death of the old order of death itself and the inauguration of the new: God’s presence with us, among us and within us; the permanent, infinite, everlasting covenant of grace of God’s Jubilee Rule of Shalom – the realm of “enough” – for everyone and justice for all. God has torn open the heavens and come down to earth to dwell forever with us, among us and within us. Baptism remains a sign of this freely given, undying covenant that’s engagement, meeting, reconciliation between heaven and earth; baptism signifies salvation, Jubilee, deliverance from the power, control, authority, dominion, influence, of death and destruction. We live in the new dominion – not in strength, might and power, but in weakness and vulnerability – of the never ending, abundant and recklessly extravagant reality of life lived in the Spirit of the God who has torn apart the heavens and all creation trembles with new and renewed life at the establishment of the abundance of God’s Justice, Shalom, and Jubilee here on earth. For all creation. For us.

Just like us, Jesus was baptized into community: a community he constantly demonstrated and proved to be one without boundaries or barriers to total inclusivity: Jew, Gentile, stranger, citizen inhabitant, male, female, child, adult.

Baptism is God’s remembrance to us of our call to walk with Jesus as Jesus walks beside us, wherever our walk may journey, because we walk with the One Whose answer always is resurrection.

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