Grace to you
Any religion, organisation, sacrament or ritual can become an instrument of death rather than a conduit of life. It does so as soon as it is used to rank people. When it creates a hierarchy of human worth it moves from life-giver to death-bringer. For this reason we must be clear on what we are doing when we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism today. Sadly, many believe that Baptism gives the holy edge over the unbaptised. A slight caricature of this goes as follows: “We are all born originally bad. But you can be baptised and receive full cover. Be not afraid, at death this comprehensive insurance pays out in full and comes complete with heavenly perks to be enjoyed forever… so hurry up and be baptised!” Put bluntly: God loves the baptised more than anyone else.
Yet this is exactly the kind of religious thinking that Jesus took issue with at every turn. He insisted God’s love rained equally on the just and the unjust and that there was no religious ritual that could twist God’s arm to anyone’s favour. In short: God has no favourites.
Baptism – especially Infant Baptism – declares so clearly that God’s love for us is without need of merit or persuasion or even understanding. The sacrament of Baptism announces: “All are in, all are welcome, all are chosen, all are beloved”. It is not: “be baptised then you are in”, but rather, “baptism tells us that all are already in – with or without baptism”.
Take another line in the Baptism liturgy: “We pray that these children, now to be baptised in this water, may die to sin and be raised to new life in Christ.” What do we mean by ‘die to sin and raised to new life in Christ?’. If, by sin we are referring to certain deeds like lying, fighting and stealing then why do baptised children lie, fight and steal as much as the unbaptised? Yet if, as Paul Tillich suggests: “Before sin is a deed it is a state”, then it makes deep and challenging sense. Sin understood as “a state of separation” – from our Creator, our neighbour, creation and ourselves. To “live in sin” means to live life in a state of separation that is fundamentally at odds with the essence of our oneness: oneness with our Creator, neighbour, creation and ourselves. Separation is therefore a false take on reality. It is not real so anything we build on it is doomed to destructively self-destruct. To pray for these children to “die to sin” is to pray that they will not live life on the false reality of separateness. To pray that they “be raised to new life in Christ” is to pray that they will live in accordance with the essential truth of being at one with all of life, as Jesus did. No wonder Jesus prayed: “May they be one as we are one”.
Baptism is then the radical declaration of the real, real world with the invitation for us to wash ourselves in this reality of oneness as Jesus did. When oneness becomes our reality – our lived experience connected with our essence – fear fades and love remains.
May we all die to sin,