Searching for Sunday: Baptism
I am super excited today to begin a series walking through Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching for Sunday with you. Each week, I’ll be discussing a section of the book, which Rachel has broken up to follow the Sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. If you’ve read the book already, please comment! I would love for this process to be a dialogue! If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, pick up a copy and join in! It’s going to be a wonderful journey.
It would be nearly impossible for me to overstate how influential Rachel’s work has been in my life. I had the privilege of helping to launch both A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and now Searching for Sunday. (There was also that time I made it into her Sunday Superlatives and my feet didn’t touch the ground for a week.)
This is far and away her best work yet, and I’m so thrilled to share it with you!
“Just as water carried Moses to his destiny down the Nile, so water carried another baby from a woman’s body into an expectant world. Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters was plunged beneath them at the hands of a wild-eyed wilderness preacher. When God emerged, he spoke of living water that forever satisfies and of being born again. He went fishing and washed his friends’ feet. He touched the ceremonially unclean. He spit in the dirt, cast demons into the ocean and strolled across and angry sea. He got thirsty and he wept.
After the government has washed its hands of him, God hung on a cross where blood and water spewed from his side. Like Jonah, he got swallowed up for three days.
Then God beat death. God rose from the depths and breathed air once again. When he found his friends on the shoreline, he told them not to be afraid but to go out and baptize the whole world.
The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy.”
This awe-inducing retelling of the metanarrative of Scripture so perfectly captures the very essence of the trademarks of Christianity: Beautiful and Good Creation, Covenant, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection.
What sets us apart as Christians isn’t that we claim to have the truth, for truly, every religion out there claims to have that. But that our God lovingly and beautifully created and formed this world and those who inhabit it, that despite our failures to care for each other and the world that God never stopped pursuing humanity – covenant faithfulness. What sets us apart is that when the time came, God denied Godself and took on flesh, humbled to a life of rejection and to death on a cross.
What sets us apart as Christians isn’t our might or strength, it isn’t that we have all the answers. It’s that the God we worship came teaching us to love the unlovable, touch the untouchable and then how to die when the world rejects us for doing it.
We remember and symbolically enter the death of Christ in baptism.
Buried with Christ in baptism
No longer my life on my terms, but Christ living in me.
The Spirit that hovered over the waters in the Creation narrative, conferred as a life force within my as I sink into a pool and surrender my rights to myself.
Raised to walk in the newness of life.
In chapter two Rachel recounts her feelings of being a bit let down after her own baptism,
“I remember wondering why I didn’t feel cleaner, why I didn’t feel holier or lighter or closer to God when I’d just I’d just been born again . . . again. I wondered if perhaps my Pentecostal classmates were right and I needed a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, or if I had not been solemn enough or prepared enough for the baptism to work.”
I resonate with that.
I think I prayed the “sinners prayer” a dozen times before entering middle school.
Every Wednesday night at church, our AWANA chapel speaker would end his or her message with an invitation:
If your car crashes on your way home tonight, and you die, do YOU know where you would spend eternity? Would you burn in hell forever or would you be in the presence of the Lord? Don’t leave this place until you are sure.
Quite a staggering invitation to a third grader.
I cried under my covers multiple nights, certain that the last five prayers hadn’t worked.
I still got mad at my brothers. Still felt empty and lonely inside sometimes. Still hadn’t received that “gentle and quiet” spirit Christian women were supposed to possess. The magic words of that “say this to invite Jesus into your heart” prayer must not have took.
Rachel concludes her baptism memory with this thought:
“I hadn’t yet learned that you tend to come out of the big moments—the wedding, the book deal, the trip, the death, the birth—as the exact same person who went in, and that perhaps the strangest surprise of life is it keeps on happening to the same ol’ you…ultimately, baptism is a naming. When Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan, a voice from heaven declared, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness. As my friend Nadia puts it, ‘Identity. It’s always God’s first move.'”
Isn’t it true?
I was baptized as an infant in the United Methodist Church.
I was re-baptized in high school when I wanted to join the Southern Baptist Church.
But I don’t think I really latched on to the identity piece of baptism until I found myself in the water again – this time of a birthing tub.
I entered the waters nervous and afraid. Writhing with labor pains.
I left the waters more certain of my own capacity for growth and strength, more certain of God’s hand to carry me through anything, and more aware of how very deep love could be. Unconditional, in fact.
I had no choice in my infant baptism. I chose to go into the waters in high school to jump through the hoops, hoping to find the belonging that remained so elusive in my life to that point.
I entered the birthing tub out of surprise and necessity, but it was in those waters I heard my name declared over me like a thousand trumpets ringing out.
You are mine. My beloved. Nothing will ever change that.