I hate to state the obvious, but the world is changing and changing fast and I for one am struggling to keep up.
An insatiable appetite for personal autonomy and freedom has left us with a severe deficiency in experiencing true community and discovering real meaning in our worlds. Our progressive world is in hot pursuit for a ‘utopia’ which excludes any mention of the transcendent and it is this new world that we are all trying to navigate.
The underlying issue resulting in a deficiency of meaning may well be that we are story people who have been separated from a grand transcendent story. Where is the issue you may ask? Meaning is discovered within a story.
Being story people is something that transcends generation, culture and era, even those holding a different worldview to mine acknowledge the importance of story. I recently heard an interview with philosopher, historian and futurist, Yuval Noah Harari, who suggested that humans rule the world because of our innate ability to gather and cooperate around story. The idea of humans being story people is not new, nor is it exclusive to those from a Christian worldview.
Embedded in story is the possibility of discovering meaning. This is the place where we make sense of who we are, why we are here, where we are going and what we are experiencing.
So, what does this have to do with Water Baptism? Baptism has always served as a means of engrafting us into God’s Story and as I said, story is where we discover meaning.
As a Senior Pastor I am challenged that every time I’m involved in water baptism, I have been given an opportunity to retell God’s story and give place to where meaning can be discovered. In a world of competing narratives aggressively wanting to be heard water baptism gives me this incredible and important opportunity.
We don’t need to look far in the New Testament to hear of the significance of Baptism. Of course, Paul masterfully shares the profound fullness of what it means to go through the waters of baptism in Romans linking it with themes of creation, exodus, exile through to New Creation achieved through the work of Christ including that exhilarating promise of Romans 6:4-
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
But our New Testament bears witness to the significance of water Baptism even before Paul came to see Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah.
From the first sentence of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 1:1-3) there is an exciting declaration made via the prophets that God’s story and therefore God’s promises are still in play. This may mean little to us but imagine the excitement and exhilaration when after 400 years of silence God’s people hear that God is moving once again. How was this primarily observed? Well, through a strange prophet who’s dress code and diet likening him to Elijah was baptising so many people that he was known as the baptiser.
John’s Baptism was significant to an Israel that was still in exile. Israel was still under foreign domination, was still awaiting God’s promise of returning to the temple, was still waiting for their national renewal and still waiting for the renewal of the rest of the world. They were waiting for God’s Story to come to a satisfying conclusion.
John’s baptism did a few things. It was reminding Israel of God’s story thus far, passing through the waters of baptism was re-enacting the passing through the waters of the Red Sea, that exodus event. It provided an opportunity to repent, and for a nation that knew they were still in exile repentance made complete sense. It was also a baptism that brought an anticipation and expectation that now God was going to fulfil His promise of a New Exodus. In other words, God’s story was now coming to its climax.
Living this side of the Cross we now know what that climactic event was and can attest that it was indeed an event that completely overshadowed Israel’s Exodus moment.
Water Baptism engrafts us into God’s Story, it always has. Living this side of the Cross brings with it even more significance and more meaning.
Water Baptism has the power to move me from a historical vantage point of observing what God has done in the past to a present, personal position today. This sacrament which includes themes like repentance, forgiveness, new life and separation for service also brings with it the invitation and immense privilege to participate with our God as His Story continues.
God is still on the move; His Story and promises are still in play being outworked through His Church by the Holy Spirit. Water Baptism engrafts us into God’s Story – what He has done, What He is doing and what He continues to do.
Within God’s story meaning abounds if we take the opportunity to discover and continually engraft ourselves to it.