One of the challenges I experience around baptism is how to remind those gathered that the sacrament of baptism is bigger than the person being baptized that day. Though one person is receiving the mark of baptism, as a liturgical act, baptism is also a communal event in which the Spirit immerses all who are gathered more fully into a baptismal way of life. Baptism is both an extension of God’s covenant to one more person and a renewal of God’s covenant with all of God’s people.
In my experience, there is little difficulty in recognizing the personal aspects of baptism. We hear a specific person’s name read out. We see the waters being applied to one person. Often a certificate or other gift is given to mark the occasion. As we should, we celebrate the moment and extend our congratulations.
The challenge I encounter, however, is with how to emphasize the communal nature of baptism – that baptism is for the whole congregation and not just for the person being baptized.
Over the past few years, I have made several attempts to draw attention to baptism’s communal aspect within our worship gatherings. What follows is one of those attempts. The preface attempts both to frame the act of baptism in relationship to the Bible’s overarching narrative of God’s mission and to recognize that baptism is not simply an event, but a way of life within God’s mission. Following this preface, we typically continue with an adaptation of one of the CRC liturgical forms for baptism. The influence of these forms, Reformed confessions and testimonies, and some scripture passages can be heard at times in what is written here.
A Preface to Baptism
In the waters of baptism, we are immersed into God’s grand story. We are reminded both of the goodness of God’s creation and of the chaos and death brought about through our rebellion against God. As the water is poured, we hear the biblical echoes of judgment and of deliverance during the flood and the Red Sea. We recall John’s baptism of repentance, the Spirit descending on Jesus, and the many who have already been marked with these baptismal waters. We also anticipate the river of life in the City of God, as it participates in the abundant life that will flourish in the new heaven and new earth.
In marking even one of us with these waters, God demonstrates his continued faithfulness to all of us in Jesus Christ. For in baptism, we are united with Jesus Christ in his death and his resurrection. God reminds us that we have been released from sin, ushered into new life in Jesus Christ, and united with the people of God throughout time and place. Therefore, we are called to love one another as God has loved us so that the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. In doing so, we hate our sin, renouncing each way and all the ways in which we, as God’s people, have denied God and harmed others, ourselves, and the rest of God’s creation.
We readily admit that this baptismal life cannot be contained in a little bowl or in the few drops of water sprinkled upon us and our children. Rather, our baptismal identity marks everything about us. Therefore, in response to God’s gift of Jesus Christ, signed and sealed within baptism, we commit ourselves, whether gathered or scattered, to making known the love of God the Father in Jesus Christ through all that we are and in all that we do.
How about You?
This preface is one of the ways that I have attempted to emphasize the communal nature of baptism in my context. As you think about baptism in your own context, are there ways that you draw attention to the communal aspect of baptism? If you are willing, I would love to hear about how you emphasize both aspects of baptism within your community.