Take the plunge
In the ancient city of Ephesus, one of my favorite places in the world, you will find the Basilica of St. John. Here the “beloved apostle” John, the author of his eponymous gospel, is buried.
One of the highlights of that historical site is the baptistery. As you can see from the picture, it is aligned with the main doors of the church—but it is located in the narthex (foyer), outside of the sanctuary proper.
The reason is this: in a world where Christianity was viewed with suspicion and spies often sought to infiltrate the Church, the preparation for membership was taken very seriously. A person could not even worship inside a sanctuary until they had been baptized. Only after a year of study, discipleship and preparation, was one allowed to profess faith, be baptized and be received—literally—into the church. Baptisms were such a big deal, they often took place on Easter.
It must have been a magnificent sight! One by one, these folks who were abandoning the idolatry of Rome and embracing the risen Jesus as Lord, walked down one set of stairs, into the pool of water, and then back out the other side! They were covered with a white robe and then, for the first time, welcomed inside the sanctuary to join with their brothers and sisters in the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
(By the way, ancient baptism was often performed au naturale—in the nude! Just as a newborn enters the world unclothed, one “reborn” entered their new spiritual world and community in like fashion.)
Two thousand years later, we STILL welcome new believers into Christ’s church by baptism. We aren’t quite as rigorous about our training requirements. (Although perhaps we SHOULD be! America is certainly as idolatrous as Rome was!) And thankfully, there’s no skinny dipping in our sanctuary! But it is still a joy-filled, glorious celebration of the cleansing power of Jesus, the invitation from death into life and into the embrace of the church.
This weekend is baptism weekend. We will have the pool in the sanctuary for “dunkees” as well as a font for those who prefer to be sprinkled. We don’t believe the amount of water matters. What DOES matter is that Jesus is still calling people to himself and to his church through baptism. I will be preaching on what may be the most important verse in Mark’s gospel (contained in 10: 35-45; read it this week and see if you can spot it!) And then, I will doff my sweats, climb into the water and invite others to join me.
If you have never publicly professed your faith in Christ and received the sacrament of baptism, this is your weekend. Come 30 minutes before your service to the Prayer Chapel. And then come on in! The water’s fine.
Pastor Mark Toone