The Rev. Know it all’s Wonderful World of Words! (Continued)
Speaking of aspergils, let us move on to Baptism. Baptism is a very simple word. In classical Greek, it simply means to dunk. It would have been the word used to refer to the dunking of doughnuts, had the ancient Greeks doughnuts, for which there is no archeological evidence. Dunking had an important meaning among the Israelites, as mentioned in my last thrilling installment. The difference between the Christian use of dunking and the Jewish use of dunking was that the Christian dunking created something new. The symbolism of the Jewish ritual bath, as I understand it, was to wash off impurity. The purpose of baptism is much more. We hold that it creates something new.
When the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea, they became something new. When the land was destroyed and only Noah and his family were spared, humanity became something new. When the Breath of God hovered over the waters of the void in Genesis, the world, a new thing, was made. That’s the symbolism of baptism. It isn’t just a dunking in water; it is a dunking in the Trinity, and adoption into the Family which is God. We hold that Baptism can turn something human into something divine. That’s a whole lot more than the sink in corner of a good Kosher Deli. There’s a lot of argument among Jesus' followers about the requirements for baptism. Some say that you should only baptize adults who can make a decision for Christ. We Catholics believe that baptism is Christ’s decision for us. We believe in grace. God gives the grace of an invitation to give new life even to babies who can only receive our love. They don’t have to earn the gift.
We pray the one day each child will accept that invitation, but nonetheless, the Lord who said, “Let the children come to Me,” makes that wonderful gift of grace. Some say it has to be a full immersion. Some say it has to be done in the name of Jesus only. We Catholics and most Christians say it has to in the name of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let’s see what the first Christians thought. The “Didache”, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” was probably written around 80 years after the birth of Jesus. That means around 45 or 50 years after Pentecost. It was probably written in Syria, just north of the Holy Land. It may have been written earlier, even as early as some of the books of the New Testament. It goes way back. It is an instructional manual about how to do things the right way. Here is what it says about Christian Baptism: (Chapter 7, verses 1-4)
Concerning baptism, baptize in this way. After you have spoken all these things, “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” in running water. If you do not have running water, baptize in other water. If you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you do not have either, pour out water three times on the head “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This seems to be what the first Christians did and it’s what we Catholics still do.