Baptism, before and after

Homily for the seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Today’s three readings can be read as something like before and after photos.  Not, however, photos advertising a particular diet, plastic surgery, or hair cream.  The middle reading, St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, mentions one of my favorite subjects, baptism.  The first reading and the Gospel give us the before and after of baptism.  

But before we get into the evidence of baptism’s effects in these before and after readings, take a look again at how St. Paul describes the first sacrament in Colossians: “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Baptism means both death and life.  It means participating in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, dying with him in order to rise with him.  You may already have heard me say that I think we lose something if we only think about baptism in terms of babies and don’t remember the way that the sacrament was celebrated in the early Church.  Then baptismal fonts were below floor-level and deep enough for adults being baptized to step down into and be fully immersed.  

Ancient Christian baptistry, Naples

Baptisms, in other words, were really dramatic events.  In Colossians, Paul uses dramatic language—the bond of our guilt, he says, is obliterated and nailed to the cross.  In Rapid City, we know the dramatic effects of water.  After a dry and scorching week, we remember that water brings life.  But we also know that in 1972 this city was destroyed by flood—in fact, this church was built here after the original St. Isaac Jogues was washed away.  The Bible uses two very different sets of images to talk about baptism: the water represent both the tomb, because it means being buried with Jesus, and the womb, because baptism is a second birth.  

Continue reading “Baptism, before and after”