One Baptism for the
forgiveness of sins.... another encounter between Knowledge and Mystery.
Baptism in the early Church was a life-changing moment. It was not undertaken lightly - and those seeking it were "tested" to ensure that they were genuine.
The Church had endured persecution and knew that some of those coming to join them were spies and infiltrators. They knew that people were suspicious of them - and so were reluctant to disclose their Mysteries too soon.
It was possible for someone to have made a commitment to joining the Church to be martyred before they had chance to be baptised - and so the sense of baptism of fire and desire came into being. This ensured that those who died before they were fully initiated into the Mysteries of Baptism - Gospel and Eucharist - knew that Christ would honour the Way they had travelled and receive them as His own.
There are parts of the world today in which to declare oneself a Christian is to find oneself at the rough end of persecution. In such communities, the caution is the same - is the person coming forward to be trusted or not
It is a question seldom asked in countries where it is at least acceptable to be a Christian. Some see Baptism as a right - even when they have no connection - nor intend to have a connection with the community or church into which they - or more usually, their baby is baptised.
The question arises - if people knew as the early Christians did - as some contemporary Christians know - that they were initiating themselves and their children into a story that was Good News but which really did mean taking up the cross - would they be so keen?
Was it an accident that for many years, Baptism was reserved for those old enough to make the decision for themselves? Were parents protecting their children by waiting until they were older to initiate them fully into the life of the Church?
We cannot know - but it is a question worth asking....
Baptism is meant to be life-transforming - it releases us from sin - all that holds us bound. We become a new creation.
When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralysed man, he was able to take up his bed and walk. So for Christians - the forgiveness of sins is not simply to make us feel good - but is to enable us to stand on our own spiritual feet and walk - walk on the Way that follows Christ.
As we watch a Baptism and see water poured over the head of the catechumen - their head anointed with oil - a candle lit - and a white garment placed over their head, we are again on our threshold of Knowledge and Mystery. How can such symbols represent what they do? And yet, something stirs in our own soul - and speaks of the breath of the Spirit - ruach breathing through the symbols and infusing something greater than matter. they become instruments of the divine reaching into human existence - so that humans can reach out and touch the divine.... if they dare....
Drinking from the Wellspring
© 1999 Wellspring