April 22, 2018
Second Temple Judaism (the Judaism of Jesus’ time) knew all kinds of purification ceremonies that involved bathing or sprinkling. In those cases, this purification was aimed at undoing the ritual impurity of a person place or thing; i.e. real or possible pollution or profanation that would exclude the person from community worship or an object from use in a Jewish home or a place from habitation.
None of these rituals were even vaguely connected to the idea of forgiveness of sins (only blood sacrifice could accomplish that). John the Baptist appears to have taken a ritual bath imposed on converts as the model for his own baptism. But he alone saw this bath as a of a Jew’s repentance for sins – and as a sign of national-religious preparedness for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Knowing that Jesus had been baptized and administered it to others, the earliest Christians took up this practice. By the time the Gospels were written, the practice was firmly established and the goal of the rite was forgiveness of sins and a new relationship with a God who was now clearly known as ‘the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’. Thus, baptism became a sign of the recipient’s openness to the coming of God’s Kingdom in the person of Jesus. This meant a rejection of every other relationship with God (either in paganism or Judaism). This new relationship with God also involved a life geared toward the second coming of Jesus and a total adherence to this as the only motivation for future decision-making.
All of you who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death – into what sin did to him, to a way of life totally removed from the concerns of this world –so that you might have a new life.
That new life was inaugurated for the whole Church on Pentecost by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. That new life is one with and grows in and by an ever-renewed communion in the Body of Christ. The connection between Pentecost and Eucharist and Baptism and Easter is too complex for this week. But we’ll get to it!
What we need to notice in closing this week is the identification that occurred almost at once between the ‘events’ or ‘stages’ of becoming a Christian and the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Moreover, the early writers of Christianity, rather than taking their cues for understanding the stage and events of Christian life from Old Testament images and events, looked at these, now, through the lens of resurrection and saw God’s work in a whole light and way. It is almost as if the moral regeneration of John’s baptism or the coming
of the Kingdom that John and Jesus preached was too small to be expressed as anything but a rising from death – the one power that seemed to threaten all faith in the reality of God’s sovereignty and power. It is from this perspective that we will finally consider the reality of Christian hope.
Really and truly and ‘easter-ly’ yours,