November 26, 2020

Epiphany I: Our baptism is always with us

Running Water HDR

Epiphany I
Our baptism is always with us

One of the key themes of recent liturgical renewal is the insight that baptism is the root and foundation of the Christian life. In our baptism, we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6). The Christian life is an ongoing experience of the dying of our old selves and rising of the new.

Several practices in Christian worship remind us of our baptism. The entire season of Lent is not first of all an extended meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus, but rather a preparation for our remembrance of our baptism. The declaration of pardon following the prayer of confession is, in many churches, read by the pastor at the baptismal font, a reminder of grace that is sealed to us in our baptism.

Several denominations have developed “remembering your baptism” services. In some of these services, worshipers are invited to physically touch the water of the baptismal font as a reminder of their baptism.

Each of these practices is designed to nurture a baptismal piety—a way of living the Christian life that actively recalls the significance of one’s own baptism. As John Calvin once argued, “The benefit which we derive from the sacraments ought by no means to be restricted to the time when they are administered to us. . . . The benefit of baptism lies open to the whole course of life, because the promise which is contained in it is perpetually in force.” More recently, Hughes Oliphant Old stated: “Baptism is a sign under which the whole of life is to be lived. Our baptism is always with us, constantly unfolding through the whole of life.”

Living Water: A Baptism Renewal Service, Reformed Worship

Last year, when two of our grandchildren were baptized, I found a poem by Wendell Berry that spoke to me of the fullness of the baptismal promises and the baptismal life.

Water abstract HDRLike the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
and sleep,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters

We enter,
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.

• Wendell Berry
“Like the Water”

What wonderful reminders of the rich gift of baptism! — “In its abundance it survives our thirst” — “we keep returning to its rich waters thirsty” — “We enter, willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.”

May our baptism always be with us, constantly unfolding through the whole of our lives.


  1. It has become common in mainline Christian theological circles to talk about the Church being a Eucharistic community; less frequently mentioned is that we are also and first a Baptismal community.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says

      That’s not just mainline. Catholics and Orthodox talk that way too – although I think they’re the only ones that believe that the Eucharist is *really* the body and blood of Jesus.

  2. Dave Denis says

    I think you may have given me a common thread for my preaching through Lent this year.

  3. Of course that would be TOTAL IMMERSION, right? Sure, it’s “only a symbol” but a symbol that has to be performed EXACTLY THE RIGHT WAY or it doesn’t work. Why yes I was indeed raised Southern Baptist, why did you ask?

  4. Christiane says

    “In the evening we come down to the shore
    to drink our fill,
    and sleep,
    while it flows
    through the regions of the dark.
    It does not hold us . . ”

    My husband wishes to be buried at sea, which is a privilege he earned in the US Navy. All the ‘arrangements’ have been made properly for this eventuality. I remember not feeling so good about his choice, except that it was HIS choice which I can respect . . . but in my selfishness I thought: no gravesite to visit . . . no ‘tombstone’ or plaque? . . . no place to sit and ‘talk’ to him like some do when the silent dead are kept ‘close’ in the earth from which they will rise at Christ’s command on the Day;

    and THEN, I came across thisfrom the Book of Revelation, Chapter 20
    “13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it . . . “

    • Dave Denis says

      That last line made me smile on the inside.

      What blessed people we are, for whom the end is not the end! The earth cannot hold us. The waters do not keep us. At the fullness of time, and at his word, they release us.

      What blessed people we are, for whom giving up means being given up into the hands of Him who holds us in his eternal, unending, glorious, and joyful life.

  5. Thanks for this, Chaplain Mike. My childhood evangelical church didn’t make much of the sacramental aspects of baptism, and yet my own baptism at age 13 was such a rite of passage and formation for me. In the Episcopal Church, we say baptism is “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ, the Church.” I remember standing in that tub telling my testimony to the whole congregation and feeling like a full-on member who mattered just as much as every other person in that room.

    Most of my childhood, women and young people carried less authority, simply because of who we were. But in my baptism, I caught a glimpse of full inclusion– a real gift.

    Now, I am passionate about helping congregations connect our baptismal ecclesiology in the Episcopal Church to their daily lives as co-laborers in Christ. My baptism memories fuel my passion.

    That Wendell Berry poem is new to me, and it’s the perfect gift for today. Thank you.

  6. As I review my own experience I think this makes good sense. After reading some patristic sources & early church practise, I now think there are 3 aspects to baptism. Firstly it actually administers God’s grace of forgiveness for past sins, opening a path for salvation, but doesn’t itself save. The second aspect is the “call to repentance” that requires a personal response of faith (when old enough to understand), in that it mirrors the Gospel in a nutshell. The 3rd is “walking in the newness of life”, which is the on-going aspect.

  7. Christiane says

    “In the evening we come down to the shore
    to drink our fill . . . ”

    an old Irish blessing: ‘ “May God give you to drink deeply from the sacred well of the Trinity” ‘

    an even older prayer of the Church:
    “““ I hear a murmur
    of living water
    that whispers within me
    ‘Come, Come to the Father’”.