The Dangerous Waters of Baptism
The Easter Vigil 4/15/2017
There is a feeling or maybe it’s a saying that applies to couples; often couples in new love. I can’t live with or without you. This internal conflict seems to hold the person’s desires in tension. On one side, this person makes you crazy. You are head over heels in love and you feel like a teenager. You want to spend all your time with them and you can’t imagine being apart. On the other side, there is something else. The person has qualities that you just can’t stand. They drive you crazy in a different way and you wish the other person was not in your life. Life would be so much easier without them.
This is the same relationship we have with other things in our lives. We know how much we enjoy a cool drink of water on a hot day. We appreciate the ability of water when we use it to clean our car or our homes. We need water to stay healthy by washing germs off of our hand and dishes. We need it to survive, for we can only live a few days without it. On the other hand, it is rather annoying when we have a leak in our roof or we step in a puddle. During storms, we know the damage water can do. It can flood our homes, capsize boats, and we know all too well that we can drown. Water gives us life and water can take it away.
Throughout the Bible, water is used much in the same way. Over the water the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. During the Great Flood, it is water that cleanses the earth and all but destroys mankind. We read about the how the Red Sea opened; giving safe passage for the Israelites, but this same water washed the Egyptians away. Water gives and water takes.
Tonight is no different. Water is the main symbol of Baptism and the waters of baptism are dangerous. They are both life giving and life taking. I think it is all too easy to get wrapped up in the sentimentality of Baptism. We see a beautiful baby, such as Valerie, in her gown, with family smiling. We know that all of our hopes and dreams for her lay ahead as we will watch her life unfold and she begins to have dreams for herself. We know of the bond that baptism makes between us and God but we overlook the dangers of this water. We used less than a gallon of water, we thank God for it. Beyond this font somehow falling on you, it is hard to imagine how this is dangerous. If we look more carefully at the prayer we said, we thanked God; for it is in this water that “we are buried with Christ in his death.” In some mystical but real way, we allowed Valerie to be drowned. Her old self of the human world, has died and she now shares in Christ’s resurrection. Through this death and resurrection; through the Holy Spirit, she has been reborn as a child of God, and an heir to His kingdom.
Because baptism holds this tension of death and rebirth, it seems clear to me why the earliest churches used this service, the Easter Vigil, to baptize. We start in the darkness of Lent; all too aware of our human nature, our sinful self. During Lent, we have made amends, rebuilt our relationships with each other and with God. In this Holy water, the same water as the flood and the red sea. In the same waters of our baptism we were washed away. Our old self was submerged and drowned. In it, our old self died and through it we were reborn; raised from the dead into new life with Christ. This is Good News. And today we remember our baptism, our commitment to Christ and how we have been plunged into the waters of Baptism, even if it was decades ago. In our memory we, along with Valerie, come out of this dangerous water, realizing that the tomb is empty and Christ is risen, and salvation is at hand. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
This has an impact on our lives that is more than mystical, or intangible; that is if we take our faith seriously. Recall the story of the tomb we just read; with the women and the guards. When strange things happen in our lives we can be like the men guarding the tomb. Out of fear they shook and became like dead men. It says they were afraid of the angel. But why did they not calm down after the angels told the two women not to be afraid?
In life, there are many things that can cause us fear, or anxiety. From politics to relationships, life is difficult. We experience all kinds of pain in life, physical pain from stubbing our toes or deep emotional pain from the death of a loved one. And to be honest, there is nothing that will make this pain just go away. The comforting words of the angel did not take the fear away from the two Marys in our story. It says they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy. They just don’t seem to be paralyzed by the fear. I believe it is through our faith that we can wrap our pain or fear in Joy, the joy of Christ’s love. This love is not as an analgesic, or even a way to cloud our pain so that we don’t see the reality of it. But by wrapping it in Christ’s love we do not lose sight of our ultimate hope. With faith, we can often carry this pain a bit further, even if it is just one more step, or for one more day; for we have Christ with us. Sometimes we can run with our fear or anxiety; not letting it slow us down. Knowing that through our baptism we share in Christ’s resurrection. There is something more after this life.
It is through this faith that we have made promises, a covenant, in which we are to live by. We are not only resisting evil but proclaiming the word. We seek Christ is all other people and we strive for justice and peace. No one who practices their faith will say that this is easy. At times it can be hard and grueling work but when we wrap ourselves in the waters of our baptism, we can hopefully carry our pain and suffering in Joy. This is the Easter joy that we are to take into the world. This is the joy of the resurrection that the two Marys found. And this is the joy that allows us to exclaim Alleluia, Christ is risen.