TUESDAY in EASTER WEEK
Psalm 33:18-22; Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18
“Let the little children come to me,” Lucas Cranach, German, ca 1535, tempera on wood, Stadel Museum, Frankfurt Germany–a piece of art designed to teach the Reformation agenda about baptism, in which the joy of the women handing over their children is contrasted with the stuffy sternness of the apostles, who one assumes had the clearer doctrinal understanding but have missed the sweetness of embracing Christ wholeheartedly
Traditionally, Easter is the time for baptisms. We usually have two-four baptisms, children and adults, at the Sat night vigil, Easter morning and services through this week. For the past two decades, I’ve immersed adults in swimming pools and Spring River, a steaming hot tub on a snow-decked porch, a bathtub for a dying hospice patient at home, a lily-decked horse trough set up in front of our altar, the Jordan River beneath the gaze of machine-gun toting border guards. Young children a-plenty have gotten thoroughly doused at the 150 year old font at the entry to the nave. This year, our scheduled baptism is unscheduled for the time being, with family unable to be there on Easter due to…well, we all know why family were unable to be there. We’ll figure out a new time when we can figure out anything at all. Because even though the people being baptized are the ones receiving the Sacrament, it’s imperative that there be a community gathered around the font: the community will help that new Christian to grow in repentance.
Baptism is the proper response to hearing that Jesus is the crucified Lord, because hearing that leads to repentance. That’s the message in Acts. But the word “repent” in Greek doesn’t mean feeling sorry for our sins, which is what I grew up thinking it meant. The Greek is “metanoia,” to change one’s thinking, to change one’s mind. And friends, whether you’re two weeks old or 72 years old, how you think can only be changed by the people around you sharing their insights and questions and beliefs. On my own, I’m trapped inside my thoughts. Baptism is always a communal activity, because those who are there promise to help the person think in new ways. Whether that’s a baby whose parents and godparents promise to focus on matters of faith in the years ahead, or an adult seeking a new circle of friends who will help her see things in ways quite unlike her previous life patterns, meta-noia is a change that requires the participation of others.
It’s for that reason that our Church–and the vast majority of all Christians throughout history–baptizes children. That, and the consistent witness of Scripture that whole households are baptized at the same time when only one person has heard the sermon that prompts the event (Acts 10 & 16, I Cor 1) and of course, Colossians 2 which compares baptism to circumcision (that happens on the 8th day). Because baptism isn’t a sign of repentance, of changing one’s mind–it is the beginning of that process, by being grafted into a new community in which faith (and failure, and doubt, and question) are shared freely and frequently so that our minds can be renewed by putting on Christ (Romans 12:2). So in this Eastertide, we look forward to that moment when we can again gather around the water and begin to help one another change our minds about how the world really works, a change based in the ever-growing recognition that Jesus is the crucified Lord.