It’s still dark on Easter morning as I join other worshipers for our annual sunrise service. We gather on a tree-studded hillside in a cemetery that overlooks a peaceful river. As the first shards of light glisten on silent waters, we sing and pray. Then a pastor stands and asks:
“Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
On the third Sunday of Easter I was in La Jolla, California, for the baptism of a granddaughter. If there is anything better than witnessing and participating in the baptism of a grandchild, I don’t know what it is.
Several years ago I was invited to preach on this gospel passage from Matthew at the National Cathedral on the Sunday designated to honor the state of Hawaii. I struggled with the subject of Jesus’ baptism, partly because baptism is not an easy concept to explain, and this story seemed strange indeed.
The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop and couldn’t help overhearing an interesting and intense debate on the other side of the room. An older gentleman was trying his best to aid an inquisitive college student who had some hard-hitting questions. She asked about scripture, about authority and about the church. One question kept popping up: “What is the difference between truth for you, truth for me and truth with a capital T?”
"The walking dead.” These are the words of African-American soldier Leon Bass as he described the horror he saw when Americans liberated prisoners in the Buchenwald prison camp in April 1945. Today some call confirmed drug addicts “the walking dead.” Then there’s the book/film Dead Man Walking—which describes many of us spiritually.
Names are sacred words by which we are individualized. Jesus, in baptism, received a new name. So do his followers. Baptism also sets each of us apart as a particular kind of person—one owned by God. Those who have been baptized are called to live out the meaning of this remarkable reality.
After the hectic and holy Christmas season, after the unusual turning of a new century and, wonderfully, a new millennium, the church and the culture will settle back into familiar rhythms. For the church and its calendar, this means the season of Epiphany with its festivals of Magi, miracles, baptism and transfiguration.