Baptism in the Beginning and in the End
January 12, 2020, Baptism of the Lord
A drunk stumbles upon a Baptismal service on a Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stands next to the Preacher.
The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus”? The drunk looks back and says, “Yes, Preacher, I sure am.”
The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked “No, I didn’t!” said the drunk
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now brother, have you found Jesus?” “No I did not Reverend.”
The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, and brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, “My good man, have you found Jesus yet?” The old drunk wipes his eyes and asks the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Today we celebrate the feast of “The Baptism of the Lord.” Have you ever noticed that not only do we begin life with baptism, but we also end life with Baptism?
In the beginning: A priest poured water on your forehead and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He then anointed you with the oil of Chrism, placed a white garment over you symbolizing eternal life, and then gave to you a lighted candle lit from the Easter candle.
In the end: A priest sprinkles the casket with Holy Water and says: “In the waters of Baptism you died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May you now share with him eternal glory.” He then covers the casket with a white garment, called the Pall, symbolizing eternal life. Standing at the foot of the casket is the Easter Candle burning brightly.
Have you ever noticed that the opening rite of the Funeral Mass is re-enacting the Baptismal rite?
In the Catholic tradition we firmly believe that eternal life is given to a person at Baptism. From the moment of Baptism that person receives the gift of eternal life, and so from that moment onward that person is going to heaven. At the funeral, we acknowledge that the Baptism gift of eternal life has now come full circle. That is why you never hear in a Catholic Church the question, “Have you found Jesus yet?” You don’t find Jesus, in fact it is just the opposite: Jesus finds you. That’s one reason why we baptize babies; to show that salvation is a pure gift from God. You don’t seek it, you don’t ask for it, you don’t earn it, and you don’t deserve it. It is a pure gift from God.
In Biblical religion God always takes the initiative, not human beings. It was God who first revealed himself to Abraham, when it all began. In the Old Testament it was God who first called all the prophets, it was God who called Moses. In the New Testament it was Jesus who called the twelve. In Baptism it was God who called you. God always takes the initiative.
This is a major difference between Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. In a Catholic Church you never hear the questions: “Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Have you been born again? Have you found Jesus?” You never hear these questions, because it is the other way around.
In conclusion, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord we celebrate our own Baptism. We celebrate our own gift of eternal life. We celebrate God’s infinite love and goodness. And we celebrate our appreciation of our God by the way we treat others. Amen.
Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7
Here is my servant whom I uphold, / my chosen one with whom I am pleased.
He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?