Here at the beginning of Lent, we begin to ponder the commitment we have made to follow Jesus Christ, most of us seeking some deeper learning or choosing some stricter discipline. In the early centuries of the church, baptism came at the end of a period of formal preparation, often as part of the Easter Vigil. The candidates for baptism, who were adults, had met the criteria of the community for becoming Christians; but they did not know everything. Some early church communities kept up a spirit of mystery about the event itself. Imagine walking into the water, eager but not fully informed, trusting God.
It’s understandable that we associate baptism with the washing away of sins because of the practice of full immersion and the historic connection to other rituals—like the Jewish mikveh, a bath used for rituals of purification. But First Peter asks us to consider the act of going into the water in less literal terms. God saved the family of Noah, who survived the waters of the flood; the epistle describes them as “saved through water.” In that interpretation, the waters of the flood are less the destroyer of the rest of the world and more the conveyance to separate Noah and his people from sin. Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” It’s a commitment to something we do not fully understand, a pledge to try and get things right.
When we baptize children, parents and sponsors make that pledge on the little ones’ behalf, promising to offer instruction and encouragement along life’s way. It’s a good reminder that baptism is not an initiation, not a graduation, and that we all have more to learn from the One who saves us.
Mighty God, help us to remember our baptism, a death to the old ways and rebirth into a new life, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
The season of Lent is now upon us, a time of inward examination that begins on Ash Wednesday. We search ourselves and ask God to search us, so that we can follow God more completely. This examination, however, can become a cause for despair if we do not approach it with God’s everlasting mercy and faithfulness in mind. Although the Flood was a result of judgment, God also saved the faithful and established a covenant with them. The psalmist seeks to learn God’s ways, all the while realizing that he has fallen short and must rely on God’s grace. For Christians, baptism functions as a symbol of salvation and a reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness—not because the water is holy but because God is holy and merciful.
Read Genesis 9:8-17. When have you, after a season of loss, experienced new life? What was the sign of that new life?
Read Psalm 25:1-10. How are you experiencing God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in your life? How do you offer thanks?
Read 1 Peter 3:18-22. When have you sacrificed something for the sake of someone else?
Read Mark 1:9-15. Recall a “wilderness” experience in your own life. What helped you to move through that experience? What were the spiritual gifts of that experience?
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