Remember your Baptism and Reflect on it
Were there occasions when Jesus recalled and reflected on his baptism in the River Jordan? I imagine that there were many times. I say this because he had a clear understanding of why he came and what he came to do, and this was embodied in his baptism. It was of great significance as a dramatic action and as a sign and symbol of his being the Saviour of the World. Since all followers of Jesus are called to follow him through the waters of baptism, we can benefit greatly by seeking to understand the depths of what we took part in. I’d go so far as to say that Christian Baptism is a mystery which the Spirit longs to fully reveal to us so that we may discern more of God’s nature, ourselves and the world in which we live. (1)
What does it mean to remember our baptism? Well it’s not just about the place, or the people involved and possibly the songs sung – it’s about understanding and relishing what it spoke of and enabled in us. It’s a Divine encounter – and like Salvation itself (which it depicts) it has relevance to the past, present and our future. Calvin exhorted believers to remember this especially when going through difficulties or times of trial. (2) There is no need for believers to be baptised more than once (just as there is no need for Jesus to die and rise again more than once) but it is very helpful to remember, and indeed to relish, what baptism is and that I have been baptised.
What happened at the baptism of Jesus and what does it teach us?
A truly Divine encounter. The synoptic Gospels describe the voice of the Father, the remaining of the Spirit and Jesus’ rising out of the water. John the baptiser is the human there to witness and tell of it. Here is Trinity in motion – the Divine dance of affirmation that must have helped sustain Jesus through wilderness trial and terrible Passion. Remember and listen to the words of affirmation and love from the Father to the Son and the anointing Spirit poured out. Yes of course Jesus remembered it and reflected on it.
So, what do we remember of our baptism?
For me it is a growing remembrance. Each baptism witnessed is a community remembering its baptisms and each Lord’s Supper is a remembering of the Covenant with God and God’s people. Baptism and breaking bread are the overlapping signs of God’s grace. The motifs of baptism are developed through both the Old and New Testaments and have been expounded by the Church. This Easter season, when we cannot gather together bodily to rehearse the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and experience public baptisms, we have many ways of remembering our baptism. We can reflect on our spiritual union with Jesus Christ and his people, our new birth through the waters, our death and resurrection to live a new life, our washing and cleansing in the blood of Christ, our passageway through every obstacle to the promised land. The teachings of scripture and the Church’s use of metaphors and life events to illustrate truth are many.
Jesus passed through the waters of baptism – an enacted preview of what he was accomplishing for us. What is needed on our part is the grace to receive what he has done but also a willingness to follow through in his wake… Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (3)
I look forward to those future public gatherings when we can be under one roof or in the open air by the sea, river or lake to celebrate that another person has accepted the invitation of Jesus to follow him. We are aware that there will be few recriminations for most of us if we are baptised as believers in Jesus, but there are places in the world where it is illegal to be baptised. The promises that we make to God by being baptised make baptism a powerful and subversive action – not to be entered into lightly. Baptism, I increasingly understand, is a confession and a profession of faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord of the universe. Baptism is therefore also to call out the powers of darkness and to clearly side with Jesus as he challenges the World.
There is something very wonderful in hearing the voice of God’s pleasure as we obey the call to follow Jesus and be baptised. At the same time there is, I feel, something that the World may find humorous and slightly baffling in adults willingly wading into a pool of water to be submerged and then lifted out of the water with shouts of delight and praise.
(1) Fiddes. Paul S., Reflections on the Water, Regents Study guide 4, 1996.
(2) Calvin. John, Institutes, book 4, Chapter XV, point 3.
(3) Excerpt from Romans 6: 3 – 11.
Jane Thorington-Hassell was until August 2019 Pastor and Team Leader at VPBC, London. She is now part of Frinton Free Church, Essex and works in Spiritual Direction and mentoring.