In this Jan. 2011 service celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord, Dr. Lois Malcolm powerfully unpacks what it means to live into our baptism:
What makes Jesus’ baptism so unique is that it is a baptism into a life that will culminate in a death that bears the diseases and sins of all people and a resurrection that releases them from all oppressive powers, even the power of death. Thus, when we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, our old sinful self, which has been enslaved by destructive forces, has now been put to death, and we now live out of the power of his resurrection. As Paul declared, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In our baptism, we have been given the first fruits — an advance installment — of the Spirit’s potent fecundity and thus now have a glimpse of the complete freedom we will ultimately share as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. In our baptism, we too, like Jesus, have been given the potent immediacy of God’s presence in our lives. When we cry out “Abba, Father!” the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God and thus heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Jesus has come to share with us all that he shares with his “Abba.” Because of Jesus, we too are those to whom God says: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In other words, “You are good. You are wanted. You are loved for yourself. You are seen for who you are. Your needs are not a problem. You are safe. You are taken care of. You will not be betrayed. Your presence matters.”
But baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection is also a baptism into his “cup of suffering” — not a suffering that brings despair but the creative suffering, like that of a mother giving birth, which enacts the Spirit’s work of healing and forgiveness amidst of all that contradicts God’s justice and mercy. And so, in the midst of economic and institutional decline, in the midst of our loss of trust in one another, and those who lead us, in the midst of the myriad tasks and responsibilities each of us is called to enact, we can live with hope and joy. By faith, we do know what animates us, what imbues our every moment and our every act with the living vitality of God’s eternal life. In Jesus, the “kingdom of God has drawn near” deep in the flesh of his humanity. And in our baptism into his death and life, our very bones, sinews, and skin are drenched and saturated with all that he is.
We can be grateful that we live in such insecure times, because it is in times like this that we are reminded that we, indeed, have no other ultimate security to rely on but the presence of Jesus within and among us through the power of the Spirit, a presence that embodies God’s reign in our lives. This is what gives us a personal identity — regardless of who we are or where we have come from. And this is what gives us a corporate identity — enabling us to establish and maintain healthy and vital communities through the Spirit’s work among us. In times like this we are brought back to the very essence of who we are and why we are here. We are nothing other than disciples of Jesus, who live out of the power of his death and resurrection. Our identities are shaped by the imprint of his image — the very image of God. And this formation into Christ’s mind and body is always both individual and corporate since baptism into Christ’s identity always encompasses all of us within a larger whole — male and female, slave and free, Gentile and Jew. We are nothing other than ambassadors of reconciliation — the reconciliation by which God reconciles the world through Christ, healing our diseases and forgiving our sins. We are nothing other than the “oak of righteousness” in Isaiah’s imagery who are called to enact God’s repairing of ruined cities and raising f the devastations of many generations.
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