40 Days of Baptism: 40

Today is the last day of Lent, tomorrow is Easter. The 40 days is up and this is the last in my series of posts that have offered an account of baptism. For this last day, I turn to the 'baptist' theologian James McClendon. Probably the most important Baptist voice of the 20th century. Author of a 3-volume Systematic Theology and now (posthumously) The Collected Works of James McClendon (also 3-volumes). The third volume was published during this 40-days and I offer an extract from it, in a sermon where McClendon speaks of baptism.

One was baptised in the River Jordan, another in the River Tiber. One was baptised at the seashore, another in a mountain stream, another in a city fountain - Rome was full of fountains. Yet there was something alike in all cases. "When we were baptised," Paul writes, "it was a burial ceremony" (see Rom 6.3-4). "we were buried with him by baptism into death." Not, of course, literal death, but a ceremonial death, a ritual death - to sin. Yet a death so effective that the baptised are now identified with Jesus who died and rose again.

In other words, baptism is a sign, an acted show, reclaiming for the believer the great central event of human history, the death and rising of Christ. Christ died; was buried; that death and burial were the proleptic funeral for sin in the human race. Christ rose, and it was resurrection day for authentic humanity. The question is how to identify with that authentic life, that secret of Christian living - Christ in you, Christ alive. When the trusting candidate goes under water, he or she reclaims Christ dead and buried. Never again can sin say of this buried one, "I am in charge here," for the death of Christ has intervened. What comes up out of the water is a new identity with the risen Christ. The church is the fellowship of the once buried; the church is the fellowship of the resurrection. Here your old life is buried the watery waste that preceded creation, tohu wabohu; here your life in faith rises up to last forever; here in dramatic sign is the secret of the Christian life. So far, the teaching of Paul the apostle.

For long ages these great truths were lost to sight, and the churches suffered the loss. Partly, churches neglected baptism itself. Baptism was shrivelled, diminished, cut loose from faith and from the great story of God's action in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, cut loose from the repetition of that story in redeemed lives. Baptism then became only a birthday shower, a kind of cradle party or a high school graduation affair - pleasant, sentimental, but remote from the risky business of following Jesus in the present age. Yet what God had done remained true, and from time to time Christian churches recovered these facts, written in Scripture, ringing true to the reality of Christian life. A lost secret can be reclaimed. Maybe we have lost the secret here? Maybe we need to reclaim it? Baptism - New Testament baptism - is God's signpost, announcing what life is all about.

James Wm. McClendon, Jr., 'The Inner Secret of Membership' in Ryan Andrew Newson and Andrew C. Wright (eds.), The Collected Works of James Wm. McClendon, Jr. Volume Three (Baylor, 2016), p.243-244. (Also printed in James McClendon, Making Gospel Sense: To a Troubled Church (Wipf & Stock, 2004 [1995]), pp.56-58.

 


40 Days of Baptism: 39

Earlier in Lent I shared a prayer by Stanley Hauerwas. Today, on Good Friday, I share an extract from a sermon he preached on the occasion of a baptism in 2007.

What do we today to Sierra and Jonas cannot help but put them in danger. For today they will be given life not only through death but through a particular death. The life they are given through this death is one that threatens those who are hard at work creating a world without death. Baptism is deadly business. To be baptized is to die in Christ and to be raised with him. Through baptism into the life and resurrection of Jesus, Sierra and Jonas are made participants in a living body that defies the culture of death.

Through baptism the baptized have inscribed on their hearts the story of Israel, Jesus, and the church. Their bodies will be storied by the story begun with Abraham, who did not ask God for a life without death. He wanted to know what God would give him, and God gave him an heir and land. We believe that God kept his promise to Abraham; Jesus is the heir and his body is our land.

The question of whether Sierra and Jonas understand what is being done to them in the baptism is beside the point. How could any of us know what we are doing when we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus? What we do, what the Holy Spirit does through us, in baptism is to make these children a part of a people who have been given the gift of life in Christ. Accordingly they will discover they can risk praying for their enemies, they can risk living lives of peace, and they can love one another because death no longer has dominion over them. What we today will not make Sierra’s and Jonas’s lives safe, but it will, with God’s help, give them lives worth living.

Stanley Hauerwas, 'A Deadly Business' in A Cross-Shattered Church (Brazos, 2009), pp.113-117.


40 Days of Baptism: 38

As we gather closer to Good Friday, here is a reflection on baptism from Craig Hovey.

The church's failure to be a martyr-church is supremely seen in those cultures that continue to baptise the young for sentimentality's sake. For many, baptism involves neither incorporation into the life of the community of faith nor incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ. It is not a drowning in the surging waters, a participation in the suffering Christ, a commitment to undergo the discipline of the church relative to its new life and mission made possible by Christ's resurrection. For many, baptism does not recall and invite the promises of God to the new member, those promises that will be necessary in a life marked by dedication and risk. Rather, it forgoes the weightier matters of life and death in favour of sanctioning the life and choices one will make on one's own. In absolute contrast to the gift God has given the church in baptism for marking the difficulty of discipleship and God's upholding, for many baptism only enshrines one's individual life apart from God and entrenches one's autonomous freedom from the church. It becomes a quaint ceremony for an innocuous blessing, a hopeful but ultimately bland sign for receiving good things from life, a plea for calm and good luck, a positive omen, and perhaps an exercise in superstition. What is certain is that many are baptised who have no intention of dying with Christ or suffering for their faith.

But just as baptism is a gift by God enriched with promise, the church must continue to trust that God will preserve its life for its gospel mission despite the way that the life appears to be undermined, in this case, from within. This is surely the more difficult of the challenges to the martyr-church: not persecution from the outside but weakening from the inside. It is tempted to think that its common life can be marked by the calm displayed by those who want the church but do not want to suffer because of it. It is asked to provide fellowship but not challenge. It is asked to provide blessing but not discipline.

Craig Hovey, To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today's Church (Brazos, 2008), pp.40-41.


40 Days of Baptism: 37

Here comes a reflection on baptism in the Syriac Christian tradition from Eugene Rogers and his book on the Holy Spirit, After the Spirit. The Syriac tradition looks at the meaning of baptism in a different light.

The Syriac tradition does not portray baptism as a grim moment in which sinners grit their teeth and try to wrest their redemption from the cold and unforgiving water. The tone is entirely different: one of praise, thanksgiving, and wonder, as befits a glimpse into the trinitarian relations and a share in the feasting at the wedding of the Lamb:

How fearful and full of awe is this moment when the supernal beings stand in silence upon this baptismal water - thousands upon thousands of angels, ten thousands of Seraphim hover over this new mother, holy baptism, the spiritual mother who gives birth to spiritual sons who enter into the bridal chamber of life that is full of joys … They stand by the river Jordan to receive the Son of God who has come to perfect baptism. The Holy Spirit descends upon him from the uppermost heights, not to sanctify him, but to bear witness to him.

The Syriac tradition can see the entire history of salvation and the entire Christian life in terms of the wedding parable of Matthew 22, in which putting on the wedding garment is putting on the Spirit. In both cases the wedding feast is the eschatological banquet at the end of time for which God has been preparing the human race since the beginning. Baptism washes human beings not primarily because of sin, but for the feast. Baptism is the great washing before meals. Bathing is already part of the joy of preparation even for the clean; so much the more so for those who are dirty. Consummation is logically prior to redemption, as the goal specifies the species of an act.

Furthermore, the wedding feast is the consummation for which all human beings were created. The Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation is bringing up her creation over time, when she hovers also over the waters of the font. The wedding garments are prepared already. The guest who was cast into the outer darkness for the lack of a wedding agreement was not one who had never had one, but one who had been given one and lost it.

Christ came to baptism, he went down and placed in the baptismal water the robe of glory, to be there for Adam, who had lost it.

That applies to all children of Adam:

You [Christ] who were without need were baptised in the river Jordan and left into the garment of divinity for those who were naked that they might be clothed with it.

The children of Adam become children of the Father by being clothed again in the Spirit:

You have clothed us in the robe of glory of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and you have granted that we should become spiritual children to the Father in the second birth of baptism.

Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology form Resources Outside the Modern West (SCM, 2006), pp.137-139. (The use of italics represents where Rogers is quoting).


40 Days of Baptism: 36

If it is not too indulgent, today I post a sermon I preached on baptism in March 2014.

What has happened here today? What have we witnessed and experienced? Some might say that what has happened here this morning is an ancient initiation rite, it’s the means that the church requires for people to join the club, to become an insider. And this is not untrue. Aimee through her baptism has become part of the body of Christ, a member of God’s people. Some might say that what has happened here this morning is the declaration of what somebody believes, they have announced in public their faith in God. And this is also not untrue. Aimee has made a confession of faith, she was asked four questions and shared her story of why she believes and felt it was right to come to baptism.

But I want to suggest something else has happened here this morning which does not begin with the church or with Aimee, but with God. I want to talk about what baptism does to you and more specifically what God in baptism does to you. So this is a sermon for Aimee, to say something of what has happened to her in the water. This is a sermon for all those here, who are baptised, to say something of what happened to you, when you went into the water. And this is a sermon for those who are here as the curious, to say something of what, as a church, we pray, will be your baptism.

I’ve got six things baptism does to us.

Number one, baptism makes you odd. Now some of you may be thinking Aimee’s always been odd, which I find hard to believe, but if true, baptism makes her odder. Baptism is not a normal part of life, especially believers’ baptism. To be baptised is to be made different, the Bible says we a ‘strangers and aliens’ (1 Pet 2.11) we are different because the baptised person now lives by a different story, with a different purpose and a different Lord. In baptism we identify with the story of Jesus and that story becomes the story of our life it is a story that tells of invitation and challenge, friendship and betrayal, suffering and death, resurrection and hope. The purpose of our life, odd as it may well appear is to tell that story as faithfully as we can because we have declared that Jesus is Lord that as odd as it may sound, Jesus is the key, the point, the centre, the reason, the beginning, the end of everything. Baptism makes you odd.

Number two, baptism means you’ve died. We’ve just witnessed a funeral. We’ve just heard it read. It’s in the Bible: to be baptised is to die – but it is a certain kind of death: it is to die with Christ. And it is a certain kind of funeral: it is to be buried with Christ (Rom 6.4). If that is so, death is no longer something to be feared or something to be denied or something that hangs over over us. Baptism says we have died, death is behind us, life is ahead of us, life in Christ.* Aimee has died, but she has also been raised; she was lifted out of the water, and so she has been lifted out of death to a new life, a life in Christ. Baptism means you’re a “dead person walking.”

Number three, baptism makes you royalty. Now as far as I know Aimee is not a member of the royal family and isn’t married into the royal family. But baptism takes us from being nobodies to being somebodies (1 Pet. 2.10) from being plebs – those in the ancient world who had no status or standing, no name or fame to royalty – those who are children of God, those who are member’s of God’s household, those who are given the royal name of Jesus. Baptism is a coronation we are crowned, we are set apart,                  we are anointed. Where the world can conspire to make us believe we are worthless, that we are no good, baptism reminds us we are made in God’s image. No ifs or buts, just this is who you are.

Number four, baptism means you’re found. It’s not that we find God, but that he has found us (Luke 19.10). It’s not that we choose God, but that he has chosen us (John 15.16). It’s not that we love God, but that he has first loved us (1 John 4.19). It’s not that Aimee said ‘I want to be baptised’, but that God said ‘Be baptised!’ Baptism gives us a new name ‘I am not.’ I am not the answer to every problem the author of my life, the centre of everything, God is.

The gospel says we’re sick and baptism says I am not the doctor.  Jesus is. The gospel says we’re lost and baptism says I am not the detective. Jesus is. The gospel says we’re stuck and baptism says I am not the one who can set free. Jesus is. The gospel says we’re broken and baptism says I am not the one who can mend. Jesus is. Baptism give us a new name ‘I am not, but I know I am’** I am not God, but God knows me: God the creator, the saviour, the finisher, God the author, the rescuer, the healer. Baptism means we’re found.

Number five, baptism marks the beginning of an adventure you’re not in control of. God said to Abraham and Sarah ‘Go.’ Jesus says ‘Follow me.’ After baptism, the question we ask is not what am I going to do with life, but what is God going to do with my life? One pastor said this to one person he had baptised:        

“By this act of baptism, we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life.This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of God’s experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we know not. Where God will take you, surprise you, we cannot say. This we do know and this we say – God is with you.”*

By being baptised, you’ve made yourself open to God’s call, you’ve become an actor in a drama, that’s been performing for a quite a while and unless Christ returns, will continue after you, but in which, for the rest of your life, you are called to perform the script God is writing for you. This gospel adventure is not one we live alone. All of us who have baptised are in it together, we’re one body being led to offer our lives as a letter of Christ to the world.

Number six, baptism means you’ve got a new wardrobe. Now this isn’t to suggest that Aimee is without fashion sense I’m neither that brave, or, probably more importantly, in any place to be giving out fashion advice. But baptism, says the Bible, is where we get clothed with Christ (Gal 3.27). In the early church, you would have been baptised naked and then as you came out of the waters you would have been give a new robe as a sign and symbol of new life in Christ. The wardrobe in baptism is not a set of clothes – sorry Aimee we’ve got no T-shirt with Jesus on it for you – the wardrobe in baptism is not a set of clothes, but the practice of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience and most importantly, the practice of love (Col 3.12). In baptism we take off and leave behind anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language, lying and put on the new wardrobe modelled by Christ.

So baptism makes you odd, means you’ve died, makes you royalty, means you’re found, marks the beginning of a life-long adventure you’re not in control and gives you a new wardrobe to wear. That is what’s happened today and at every baptism. That is what God is about: calling, naming, saving, creating a people who know what being human is really about and who exist to tell the world. Today, Jesus says, ‘Aimee, welcome to my world.’ Indeed God’s invitation is always open to everyone to enter this to strange new world of being Christian. May be one of you have heard the summons today. Amen.

 

* I owe this way of putting things to Kim Fabricus’ sermon ‘Welcome to my world’ http://www.faith-theology.com/2010/07/welcome-to-my-world-baptismal-sermon.html

** I owe this phrase to Louie Giglio, I Am Not, but I Know I Am (2006)

*** Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon, Resident Aliens (1989), pp.52-53.


40 Days of Baptism: 35

Today's post comes from Kim Fabricius and a sermon he posted on the Faith and Theology blog, to which he is a regular contributor. Fabricius is a URC minister in Wales and is very funny, as well as a great preacher. In the sermon below he reminds us of the oddness of baptism.

I’d like your opinion about a couple I know, about something they did, did to their child. Of course they loved their baby to bits and surrounded him with all the care in the world, cooing and cuddling, bathing and bonding, taking tender care about all his needs and his feeds and his smelly little deeds. They were good parents. But then one day they made a decision: they decided they didn’t want to keep their baby to themselves, or even to their own kin; they decided they wanted to share their child with other people, indeed to raise their child as part of another family, a genetically unrelated family, where their child would have not only other brothers and sisters, but also other mothers and fathers too. In fact, this new family would, in principle, supersede their own family as the child’s true and ultimate home. Tell me, what would you think of parents who would do such a thing with their child?

And another thing. To mark this transition from the biological family to this new family, this couple arranged for a special occasion – but what an odd occasion it was. For one thing, it took place on a Sunday morning, when most other folk were still in bed, and in a rather odd building. For another thing, there was no booze (fancy a special occasion without any booze!). And then there were the guests: many of the people at this occasion the parents didn’t even know, or didn’t know very well. In fact, it was precisely these people, many of them quite old, and a few even a bit doddery, who turned out to be their child’s new parents and siblings. Again, what would you think of such parents?

And a final thing, perhaps the most outrageous thing of all. At this occasion there was a man wearing a sombre black gown, as if he were taking a funeral. In fact, that is precisely what the man said was happening: that his parents were bringing their child to this occasion to mark his death, his death to the world from which he was brought, but which (so the man in the black gown declared) is a world that is itself passing away, yet a world that spends most of its time and energy pretending it will go on forever, thereby entangling itself all the more inescapably in the cords of its own extinction. For is that not the nature of the world we live in? Do we not live in fear and denial of death, compulsively seeking longevity, security, the ultimate risk-free environment, which, however, a moment’s clarity exposes as the sheerest fantasy? On this occasion, however, (so the man in the black gown declared) we get real and deny this denial of death, as the child, in the ritual of the occasion, dies and is buried, with everyone present acting as celebrants of his funeral.

Again, for the last time, what would you think of such parents? Let’s be honest: bringing their child to be handed over for shared parenting is outrageous enough, but bringing the child to his own funeral, what kind of parents would do such a macabre thing? You might think that, at best, they were being irresponsible, at worst, abusive, and that they should be reported to the police and social services. In fact, if you are not a Christian, you are bound to think this way. In fact, many Christians themselves think this way. Which just goes to show how domesticated and sentimentalised baptism – because, of course, that is what we are talking about here, baptism – it just goes to show how domesticated and sentimentalised baptism has become, and how the church itself has colluded in “watering-down” the meaning of its sacrament of initiation. Indeed it goes to show how close the church is coming to losing its identity, and in losing its identity, losing its very soul.

Hear again Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Rome, which go straight to the point: “Surely you know that when were baptised into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptised into union with his death. By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death …” (Rom 6:3-4a).

There it is in the Bible (I’m not making it up!): to be baptised is to die – but it is a certain kind of death: it is to die with Christ. And it is a certain kind of funeral: it is to be buried with Christ. But if that is so, it means that, appearances notwithstanding, in baptism our deaths are now behind us. Which, in turn, means, that we are released from our obsession with death, our fear of death, our denial of death, all of which speaks of our enslavement to death – from which baptism frees us. For not only is death now behind us, above all life is now ahead of us. But again, a very specific kind of life: it is life in Christ. For as Paul continues: “By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life” (6:4).

We are all gong to die. One day Adam is going to die too. But today we proclaim that, in fact, Adam’s death is now behind him and that life, the life of Christ – a new life of love, joy, and peace – is Adam’s future, and indeed is there now for the taking – or rather the receiving – through his union with Christ.

And that’s where we come to Adam’s “new family”. For in being baptised into union with Christ, Adam becomes a son and brother of everyone else who has been baptised into union with Christ. He has been born anew, of water and Spirit (John 3:5), born, that is, into a new family, with new siblings and new parents (including the doddery ones!). Fellow Christians are now, in fact, Adam’s closest relations. “Blood is thicker than water,” people say. Not so, Christians say: “Water is thicker than blood.”

I am under no illusions of just how mind-blowing all this is. And not only because baptism is, ultimately, supernatural, but also because (as I have tried to suggest) it is quite unnatural, and a quite unnatural way of life follows from it, a way of life that contradicts the way the world and his wife go about their business. For if we are introducing Adam to the new way of life of Jesus, we will try to teach him not to become an earning, shopping, and consuming machine, ever agitated and restless, or someone who wants to be “famous”, but a human being who is happy in his own skin and, above all, grateful just to be. We will also try to teach him not to become a cunning climber and schemer, ever out for Number One, but a human being whose Yes is Yes and No is No, who doesn’t deceive or discard other people but puts them first. And, finally, we will also try to teach him not to become an eye-for-an-eye kind of guy but a turn-the-cheek kind of geek, who is kind to everyone, who takes a punch rather than gives one, who prays for those who wish him ill, who lives at peace even with his enemies.

Yes, all this is so radically counter-cultural, for it clearly involves living an exposed and vulnerable life, a life at considerable risk, a life on which the “health and safety” bureaucrats might like to slap a restraining order, a life that might incur suffering in some contexts, even if only ridicule, for its eccentricity, in our own.

That’s why bringing your child for baptism – some may think it’s sweet; in fact, it is quite heroic. If you want a life of ease, pleasure, and success, a gated and protected life among your own, then the last thing you want to be is baptised. If, however, you want a life full of real meaning and lasting purpose, the kind of life God wants us to live, the kind of life, in Jesus, God shows us how to live; if you want a life that is not ephemeral but eternal, a life not just for now but forever, life as it is going to be when God completes his work in progress, life that begins even now, in the sacrament of baptism that proclaims the old world going and a new world coming, and calls us to live tomorrow’s life today – then you’ve come to just the right pace, you’re taking part in just the right occasion, you’re watching a sneak preview of the end of time as we know it, and the beginning of time as you couldn’t imagine it in your wildest dreams.

Today, the Lord says, “Adam, welcome to my world!” Indeed God’s invitation is always open to everyone to enter this strange new household of the church, and this strange new world of being a Christian.

Kim Fabricius, 'Welcome to My World: A Baptismal Sermon', July 2010 (originally posted here)


40 Days of Baptism: 34

I offer today 3 pictures of the baptism of Jesus. 

Baptism_of_christ_from_a_gospel_t_shirt-rd68af25931c04965b4ae3faf4c38d9d2_imtb4_1024This pictures comes from 1330, it is from an Armenian Cathedral in Iran. It also appears on the front cover of Curtis Freeman's Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor, 2015).  Baptism-of-christ-1450(1) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Piero Della Francesca's painting from 1450 and can be seen in the National Gallery, London.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The River 2

This painting is called 'The River' and is by John August Swanson (1987). At the bottom is Jesus being baptised and then above are all these other persons using the river.


40 Days of Baptism: 33

Will Willimon tells a story of baptism.

Once upon a time I went out to a small rural church to baptize a twelve-year-old boy whom a pastor had been instructing in the faith. I was happy to oblige until the pastor said, “Jeremy very much wants to be immersed. Can you do that?”

“Er, uh, sure. I can do that,” I said, unwilling to admit that I had rarely baptized anyone by immersion.

I arrived at the church that Sunday morning, and sure enough, there was the pastor standing on the front steps of the little church with a small boy.

“Jeremy, this is the bishop,” the pastor said proudly. “It’s an honor for you to be baptized by the bishop.”

Young Jeremy looked me over and said only, “They tell me you don’t do many of these. I’d feel better if we had a run-through beforehand.”

“That was just what I was going to suggest,” I said.

We went into the church’s fellowship hall where the pastor showed me their newly purchased font, dressed up by a carpenter in the congregation, surrounded by pots of flowers. Jeremy said, “After you say the words, then you take my hand and lead me up these steps, and do you want me to take off my socks?”

“Er, uh, you can leave them on if you want,” I said.

Well, we had a wonderful service that Sunday. I preached on baptism, the choir sang a baptismal anthem then the whole congregation recessed into the fellowship hall and gathered around the font. I went through the baptismal ritual. Then I asked Jeremy if he had anything to say to the congregation before his baptism.

“Yes, I do. I just want to say to all of you that I’m here today because of you. When my parents got divorced, I thought my world was over. But you stood by me. You told me the stories about Jesus. And I just want to say to you today thanks for what you did for me. I intend to make you proud as I’m going to try to live my life the way Jesus wants.”

Though I’m now weeping profusely (Jeremy asked, as I led him up the steps into the pool, “Are you going to be OK?”), I baptized Jeremy and the church sang a great “Hallelujah!”

Baptism is God’s word in water that saves. Not that the church necessarily says that we are saved by this ritual, but rather baptism gathers up all the meanings of Christian salvation and demonstrates those in word and water. The dying-rising dynamic that is signified in baptism is at the heart of salvation in Christ. The church promises that this has happened to you, is happening, will happen to you in your salvation.

William H. Willimon, Who Will Be Saved? (Abingdon, 2008), pp.29-30


40 Days of Baptism: 32

Flannery O’Connor's short novel The River is a shocking story, in which a baptism lies at the centre. Below is the extract of Harry Ashfield's baptism in the river.

“Listen to what I got to say, you people!  There ain’t but one river and that’s the River of Life, made out of Jesus’s blood.  That’s the river you have to lay your pain in, in the River of Faith, in the River of Life, in the River of Love, in the rich red river of Jesus’ blood, you people! …. All the rivers come from that one River and go back to it like it was the ocean sea and if  you believe, you can lay your pain in that River and get rid of it because that’s the River that was made to carry sin.  It’s a River full of pain itself, pain itself, moving toward the Kingdom of Christ, to be washed away, slow, you people, slow as this here old red water river around my feet.”

“If I Baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ.  You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life.  Do you want that?”

“Yes,” the child said, and thought I won’t go to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.

“You won’t be the same again,” the preacher said.  “You’ll count.”….

Suddenly the preacher said, “All right, I’m going to Baptize you now,” and without more warning, he tightened his hold and swung him upside down and plunged his head into the water.  He held him under while he said the words of Baptism and then he jerked him up again and looked sternly at the gasping child.

[The child’s] eyes were dark and dilated.  “You count now,” the preacher said.

“You didn’t even count before.”

Flannery O’Connor, The River in A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955)


40 Days of Baptism: 31

Another short reading of baptism, this time from the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book Nachfolge, from which today's quotation can be found, was published in German in 1937, in the years of Nazi government of Germany. 

Baptism thus implies a break. Christ invades the realm of Satan and lays hold of those who belong to him thereby creating his church-community. Past and present are torn asunder. The old has passed away, all things have become new. The break does not come about by our breaking our chains out of an unquenchable thirst to see our life and all things ordered in a new and free away. Long ago, Christ himself has already bought about that break. In baptism this break now also takes effect in our own lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 2015 [1937, ET= 1948]), p.170.