Baptism. Ingredients and directions. Procure a nice bowl (possibly a gorgeous brass bowl from the mid-1800’s). Obtain a pitcher (possibly even the one given to you by Aunt Issie on the day of your wedding). Fill the pitcher with tap water. Luke warm. Add a few drops of water from Jordan River. It’s a wonder the Jordan River hasn’t dried up yet.
Gather round the bowl. Say some words. Pour the water and bless it. Then apply it. Smear the water on the forehead of the one being baptized, making with it the sign of the cross. As you do so, invoke the Trinitarian formula: in the name of the one whom Jesus called Abba, Father; in the name of Christ our Savior and in the name of the Holy Spirit.
And voila! We have a Christian.
Except … except, there is some prior work … some preparation. Some things you do not see that go into it … and, that make it what it is.
And what it is, is this: Baptism is making Christians. Baptism is Christian making … Christian marking.
Why? How? Well, as to the first … as to the Why? That is easy: because Jesus did it. He did it before he did anything else in his ministry.
He would raise the dead. But, not before he was baptized. He would transform the lame into dancers … reveal to the blind a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and textures … but not before he was baptized.
He would preach the Sermon on the Mount (the single greatest ethical treatise of the ages) … but not before he was baptized.
He would overturn the tables of the money changers in the Temple and teach the teachers a thing or two … but not before he was baptized.
He would spin parables from coins and sheep, motes and beams, bushels and brooms. But not before he was baptized.
He would still storms, forgive sins, and turn water into wine … He would do all these things and more … so much more … but not before he was baptized.
And, for all the things about which Christians and churches disagree, this is an uncontested, universally shared belief: Jesus submitted to baptism and so must we. That is the why.
But How? How does it work? How does this water make us and mark us as Christians?
Here is how: the waters of baptism are thicker than blood.
It was in the waters of baptism that early Christians broke down the barriers between enslaved and free, between Jew and Greek, between women and men.
You would not eat at your table with your slave. … but, By God, by baptism, the enslaved one and his master ate together at Christ’s table …
Men were served at table by their women who later ate what was left. But, by God, and by baptism, the 1st century wife and her husband ate together, broke bread together at Christ’s table.
The mark of Christian baptism usurps the conventions of aristocracy or nobility, the conventions of race and class, the conventions of ethnicity or nationality … the conventions separating women and men, immigrant from citizen, straight from gay, poor from rich, north from south, homeowner from homeless.
The waters of baptism—waters thicker than blood—make and mark us as family to each other. It is in baptism, in our ascent to being baptized—or by our ascent to having a child baptized—that we claim our allegiance, our relationship, our kinship to those others who are baptized.
We become family to one another. Accountable to one another: to one another’s joys and sorrow. To one another’s needs.
He would raise the dead, would Jesus. But not before he was baptized.
He would preach the Beatitudes and bequeath to the ages the story of the Good Samaritan
and the parable of the Prodigal Son …but not before he was baptized.
He would discuss matters of consequence with a woman from Syrophonecia, befriend tax collectors and lepers, defend women of the night, and proclaim that his family is comprised of those who hear the word of God and do it … He would do all these things and more … so much more … but not before he was baptized.
For the waters of baptism: they are thicker than blood.