Year A: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Second Reading: Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11
Baptism in the early Church was a life-changing experience. It came after a long period of preparation and testing of commitment.
St Paul emphasises its power by placing it firmly within the Mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who are baptised are going into the tomb with Jesus - dying to their old selves. They re-emerge from the waters as Christ re-emerged from the tomb - a new creation.
The Baptism was by total immersion. The person being baptised removed all their clothing - jewellery - and entered the water down steps on one side of the font.
Here, they would be met by the presider who would push them under the water three times - so that the baptised person would be left gasping for breath.
Then, he or she would be led to steps at the opposite end of the font and be helped to climb them - emerging from the waters as a child emerges from the waters of the womb.
They were clothed in a white garment - and were then taken to join the rest of the community who would receive them with joy.
This ritual emphasised the passage from the old life - in effect, a death to a newness of life lived in Christ.
There remains the physical death which all human beings have to face - but we believe that, as Christ was raised from the dead, death no longer has power over Him and, because our lives are now totally immersed in His, physical death no longer has power over us.
This is a radical truth about Baptism which has been softened as Baptism has become seen as something reserved for babies. This has its own integrity - but is more often seen as a way to welcome a baby with a ritual and party than immersing the child into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus...
Throughout the early Christian time, Baptism was seen as the point where life and death collided. For some, death was an inevitable consequence of their adherence to Christianity - a death they went to knowing that they were immersing themselves even more deeply into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
What does it mean for me?
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