I have vivid memories of two very different baptisms.
The first took place on a warm sunny blue-sky day early on a Sunday morning. I had discovered that the Treasurer of the Congregation had grown up in the Salvation Army and had never been baptised, and neither had his wife, although she was now an Elder in the Congregation. As soon as I discovered this I spoke to them about Baptism. In preparing them for baptism they were adamant that they wanted to be baptised by full immersion and they wanted to show me exactly where. They drove me down the Marlo Road alongside the Snowy River and stopped along the way where the river was shallow close to the bank and we waded in to waist deep.
I had never conducted a full immersion Baptism before but was very happy to present this to the Elders of the church. While some worried that I was turning Pentecostal, the Elders agreed and on the day the gathering at the river was very ecumenical including two Catholic Priests. This was a service of Baptism everyone would remember, a public witness to the grace and welcome of God. While the morning air was warm the flowing water of the Snowy River was cold and very refreshing, and gave me a vivid image of what happened when Jesus came down to the Jordan River where his cousin John the Baptist was preaching.
The second Baptism I remember is when we baptised my son on St Andrew’s Day in St Andrew’s Church, Berwick. I had found an old copper once used for washing clothes and now about to be thrown away. I cleaned and polished it and a member of the church made a wrought iron stand for it. One of the Elders insisted on putting a tartan shawl down on the low table on which the copper font was placed. As the congregation arrived for this early evening service this large font was filled with warm water as a Piper played outside. I have always preferred large symbols especially for Baptism, because they alert us to the immensity of what we do in baptism. From ancient times baptism was a bath; a washing away of sin, a cleansing by the Spirit, a kind of dying as we are immersed under the water, and a raising up to a new life in Christ. I know the Orthodox completely immerse a baby in water. I didn’t have the heart to do that, but we did put my son into this warm bath up to his shoulders and then pour water over his head in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Taking his naked little body out and wrapping him in a warm white towel to be presented to the congregation completed the action.
This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Some early Christians struggled with why Jesus would need to be baptised by John, because after all Jesus was the Son of God and so didn’t need to repent of any sins. It was confusing to them and an embarrassment. Others focused on this event as an Epiphany; that is a revelation of who Jesus is, emphasising the reticence of John to baptise Jesus and the voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s beloved Son. On Sunday I will be speaking more about the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism and what it means for us.
Celebrating the Baptism of Jesus provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our own Baptism, and how we have been welcomed into the family of God, joined with Christians of every denomination in every country around the world in one great fellowship of faith and bound together by the Holy Spirit, to be a sign of God’s reconciling love in our world.