A new baptism

The violin can be one of the most difficult instruments to master. I know, because I try to play it, from time to time. And it isn’t easy to play well. So I appreciated this poem that reflects a baptismal understanding recognizing the touch of God on our lives:

“’Twas battered, scarred and the auctioneer thought is scarcely worth his while – to waste his time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile, ‘What am I bid, good people’ – he cried – ‘who will start the bidding for me? A dollar, a dollar, now two, only two – two dollars, and who will make it three – but no!’

“From the room far back a gray-haired woman came forward and picked up the bow. Then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening up the strings she played a melody pure and sweet as sweet as an angel sings.

“The music ceased and the auctioneer with a voice that was quiet and low, said: ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’ And held it up with the bow. ‘A thousand dollars, and who will make it two – two thousand and who will make it three? Three thousand one, three thousand twice and going and gone’, said he.

“The people cheered, but some of them said, ‘We don’t quite understand, what changed its worth?’ Swiftly came the reply: ‘The touch of the Master’s hand.’”

Our lives, sometimes, can be out of tune, and tattered and torn with sin. Our lives can therefore feel ‘cheap’ and useless – much like the old violin. But then the Master comes, alighting our lives with the loving touch of the Spirit of God. God touched us in our baptism and we can never be the same again. We are of priceless worth to God.

Our lives are transformed, changed for the better, when what we do and who we are resonates and harmonizes with the purposes of God. We are in our baptism called to be servants and co-workers with the living Jesus in the ministry of the church.

If there is any similarity between Jesus’ baptism and our baptism, it is in discovering and embracing the unique purpose of our life. What was Jesus’ purpose? His mission?

Because Jesus didn’t need baptism in the same way we practice the first sacrament today. Jesus’ baptism was meant for Jesus alone, in first century Palestine; after all, the heavens were opened “to him” (Matthew 3:16), Matthew records, presumably to him alone. Jesus had a singular and primary purpose to fulfill as the Son of God. It was to be his job alone to take away the sin of the world. Not anyone else’s.

Jesus’ ‘baptism’ was really an inauguration for Jesus to begin his earthly ministry in that time and place. If anything, we catch a glimpse of the intimate relationship between Jesus and his ‘abba’ – God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized in order to fulfill the purpose of God to bring salvation to us. This is what is meant when Jesus says his baptism is meant to “fulfill all righteousness” (v.15). God was doing something here to accomplish the salvation of the world through Jesus.

And God would accomplish this through Jesus in at least a couple of ways: First, through Jesus, God makes all things new. Just as Jesus transformed the Passover Meal into the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper; just as he transformed and gave new meaning to the Hebrew Scriptures; so, he made baptism a new thing.

In response to Jesus’ command recorded in the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19) – to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Christian baptism is primarily an act of the triune God. Baptism is done ‘in the name of’ God. In baptism, God acts. Baptism is God’s doing now, not our doing. God is the primary actor.

Through the sacraments God promises to be united to us in love, to bring us into the community of faith, and to nourish us on the journey. Through the sacraments, God promises to adopt us as God’s precious children whom God will never abandon. In my baptism, I believe God promised to love me, to forgive me, to nurture me and stay with me, “even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), no matter what I do.

We belong to God, we call ourselves Christian, not because we made it that way. But because God wanted us. We are God’s children, and we have God’s touch on us. Thereby, God also accomplishes through Jesus our salvation: by coming to us and being in us, and calling us to serve in the name of Jesus.

God identifies with us — with humanity — by becoming human and going through all the motions of being human. God identifies with us in order to transform out lives. That is what ‘salvation’ means — transformation. Not only is salvation about heaven, but also about being transformed in our lives on earth.

The Belmont Abbey and College in North Carolina was built on property that was once a large southern plantation. In a far back corner of the property, the monks found a huge, granite stone upon which men, women and children stood a couple centuries ago to be sold as slaves.

The monks took the stone and hollowed a little bowl in the top. Then they carried the rock into the abbey’s chapel where to this day it serves as a baptismal font. The engraving on the baptismal font reads: “Upon this rock, people were once sold into slavery. Now, upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free children of God.”

That font is a wonderful symbol of the new life, new beginning, new start we always receive because of our baptism into Christ.

Our baptismal font is placed at the centre of our sanctuary. It is placed there so that every worshiper be confronted by it every Sunday morning. It is placed there so that those who come and go from the church be persistently and constantly reminded that they have been baptized, grafted as members of the Body of Christ, the church, marked and identified as a Christian disciple.

I would ask that each of us remember our own baptism – as Martin Luther did every morning washing his face with water – as an affirmation of our own calling, purpose and mission in Christ. What are we called to do for Christ? What is our unique mission? What have our lives together been formed — grafted — to accomplish in Christ’s name?

When we ‘live out’ our baptismal calling to be God’s hands and feet in this world, in this time and place, we can be confident God says to us: “you are my beloved daughter or son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Thanks be to God.

Thanks to Rev. Joanna Malina for providing me with some of the illustrations described here, from her own reservoir of experience.

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