We stood in the River Jordan, along with hundreds of other pilgrims from around the world who came to the Jordan to be baptized or remember their baptisms. We read the verses from Mark, in which Jesus is baptized by John. We prayed together, asking God’s blessing on the water and on us gathered together. And we recalled together what baptism means:
1. It is a sign of God’s grace, something God does rather than something we do. God chose us before we chose God. That is why we don’t actually rebaptize; God didn’t mess it up the first time. Rather, we simply reclaim or remember our baptisms.
2. It is an acknowledgment of our identity. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened up and he heard the words, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” As we go to face our daily challenges, we remember “I am God’s beloved. That is who I am” and we live out of that identity.
3. It is a recognition of our entrance into the community of faith. The earliest baptismal fonts were put at the entrance to churches, as a sign that we not only belong to Christ, but we belong to the body of Christ. We are responsible to shape one another.
4. It is a tool of the Holy Spirit, through which God calls us for ministry. In Jesus’ baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit came upon him like a descending dove, anointing him for the work he was to do. He left immediately to be tested and tempered in the wilderness. In our baptisms, we, too, are anointed with the Holy Spirit, and the seeds of gifts of that Spirit are planted in our lives. These gifts we will bring to sprout and grow through faith. God gives us those gifts in order that we might accomplish that to which he calls us.
5. The gift of Baptism is to be received with repentance. It is not a simple ritual cleansing as the early Jews believed. Instead, John preached a “baptism of repentance,” in which we turn toward our lives in a new direction.
And then many came and remembered their baptisms, and gave thanks for God’s unwavering gift of grace and love, even when we have turned away. Some chose to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan. Others chose to have the waters of the salvation poured over their heads. Still others simply remembered their baptisms as part of the community there. But God was present, and we were all blessed.