December 22, 2014

Daniel Grothe: Dripping Wet: Developing a Christian Imagination for Baptism

8199403481_042ec2968e_z

Note from CM:  Our friend Adam Palmer recently introduced me (via email) to Daniel Grothe, who serves at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. After reading his blog, Edging Into The Mysteries, I agreed with Adam that Daniel has good things to say and that he says them well. So, he graciously agreed to share the following post about baptism and why this sacrament takes center stage in the Easter season. I look forward to more from Daniel in the future and hope you will give him a warm welcome here at IM today.

* * *

Another Lent has come and gone. This last week we made the journey with the faithful–and with many more still feeble in faith–to the tomb where we discovered that it is still empty! Thanks be to God for that. And now priests, pastors, and parishioners around the world are preparing for baptisms this Sunday. But why is baptism the next (theo)logical movement in the Church’s calendar year?

Historically, Lent has been set aside as a time of preparation for the catechumenate–the people who are coming to faith for the first time, or those who are returning to their First Love after a season, however long, of wilderness wandering. Lent, you see, is a death before a resurrection, a time of releasing the weights and sins that so easily entangle us so that we can run with perseverance. We know that once we make the journey to the tomb-that-we-hope-is-still-empty, we’ll have plenty of work to do.

The Church, therefore, has taught that after the period of Lenten training, one is properly prepared to enter the waters of baptism. But what is baptism? What is going on in baptism?

To begin, we remember that baptism requires water. If we open the first page of the Bible, before we read the creation story we find the Spirit hovering over the primordial waters. This detail is not throwaway. Water is an essential part of the Christian story:

  • YHWH sends The Deluge in Noah’s time. Water cleans out and water creates new possibilities.
  • Baby Moses floating the Nile in a basket. The future rescuer is rescued from the treacherous waters.
  • Crossing the Red Sea. Israel is saved and separated from her oppressors through water.
  • Water from the Rock in the wilderness. Even the arid wilderness, we’re told, gushes for YHWH.
  • Crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Obstinance is washed away before land is possessed.
  • Naaman the Leper dips seven times. God heals this scoundrel ruler of a foreign army through a washing.
  • Jesus walks on water. Jesus turns water into wine.
  • Jesus says, “Peace be still.” A storm ceases.
  • Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • Jesus says that from believer’s bellies will flow “rivers of living water”, and by this he meant the Spirit.
  • Revelation 22 imagines the “River of Life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The tree of life stands on both sides of the river, bearing twelve crops of fruit (to feed the Twelve Tribes!), “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

On and on it goes–water, water, more holy water.

Jesus himself insisted on being baptized, getting in on the work his Father was doing in the deep end of the pool. Through water Jesus is anointed with the Spirit and declared a son. His ministry is inaugurated and power released as he comes up from the depths.

John the Baptizer himself, a man known for doing his best work down in the Jordan River, said: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The Greek verb bapto means “to dip” or “to dye”. In baptism we are “dipped” into newness, the old sin-story being washed away, carried downstream by the currents of the Spirit. We begin to see our baptism as a divine coloration, a “dye-ing”, our lives increasingly tinted by shades of Christ’s love, holiness, and glory.

What is especially important about the Christian rite of baptism is The Story going on within and beyond the story that we see playing out in the water in front of us—the reality that this person splashing around in water is being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, right here, right now. In baptism, we believe we are watching the simultaneous decimation and reconstruction of a life by the Spirit who is called Holy. Baptism is a drowning and a rescue all at the same time. Baptism is the release from slavery into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Marilynne Robinson, in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, has provided us one of the most sanctified accounts of water. In a vivid scene, she writes:

The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.

Every morning I try to get up early to have a shower before my three kids stir. It is one of the few quiet moments of my day and it has become a time of holy reflection for me, my daily “mini-baptism” where I think to myself, “What if it’s true? What if water was made for blessing?”

We come up out of the baptismal waters and someone hands us a towel. We quickly dry off and celebrate this momentous occasion with family and friends. But the truth is we never really dry off. The Spirit within us guarantees a life drenched in the grace of God. Baptized Christians walk around dripping wet.

Comments

  1. Excellent!

    Daniel gets it right. Death, and resurrection. Done to us (the Cross, done to us) in our Baptisms.

    Romans 6 says as much, also.

    Thanks for posting this.

    • Daniel Grothe says:

      Thanks, Steve! Happy to have been invited to the table over here at IM.

    • Ephesians 4 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.… 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. In verse 13 that word by is actually translated as in one Spirit we are baptized into one Body hence the 1 Peter 3 21Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word 6 foundational doctrines to Christianity listed as the milk of the word. Hopefully one day I will finish the book on them….romans 6 is an essential aspect along with romans 7 and 8 great point :)

  2. Christiane says:

    there is mystery in water itself . . . every ‘unit’ (molecule) of the stuff contains one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen . . .

    hydrogen, fuel for burning; and oxygen helps things to burn more brightly,
    but chemically bind the two elements, and do you create fire?
    No.
    You get a compound that puts fires out . . . :)
    God has a sense of humor.
    In this strange molecule’s power to astonish, Creation bears a silent witness to this truth.

    If it is indeed the stuff of blessing, then, in the words of the Celts, ‘may God give us to drink deeply from the Well of the Holy Trinity’

    and even at the end of time, it is written that the Lord of Life will command the sea, and it will obey Him . . .
    ‘. . . AND THE SEA GAVE UP THE DEAD THAT WERE IN IT’
    (from Rev. 20:13)

    some thoughts

    • Daniel Grothe says:

      Brilliant, Christiane! Absolutely love and appreciate your input here. “Oh the depths of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out…”

      I’m going to tuck your input away and see how it comes out in the future.

  3. The thoughts on water being a source of life and healing remind me of the aqua sizes for those over 50 that I attend twice a week. The water turns old men into boys as they splash each other and tease the women around them. The water sooths our tired joints, makes the heavy feel light. Together we move and stretch building strength and muscle. We share our stories and laughter abounds.

    Participating in this group has become a part of my spiritual as well as physical exercise. I come out of the pool refreshed and renewed. A baptism of sorts.

  4. Daniel Grothe says:

    Judy, very imaginative. I can see those old men now, splashing around, being made new again. Enjoy your twice a week baptisms! Thanks for stopping by to participate in the conversation. Daniel

  5. ChrisS says:

    “… the simultaneous decimation and reconstruction of a life by the Spirit who is called Holy.”
    Isn’t that the prototype for the rest of our journey? Baptism let’s us in on the secret of Christian life. It costs everything. We attain, by completely releasing, in a continual flow. Give up on the releasing part and everything begins grinding to a halt. One baptism for all to see and 10,000 alone in Christ.

    • Daniel Grothe says:

      Chris, yessssss! “We attain, by completely releasing, in a continual flow…” Gorgeous stuff. Thanks for chiming in.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    Daniel, this is a beautifully written piece. Thank you.

    Thanks for the quote from Gilead. This novel is one of the most theologically significant works of fiction I’ve ever read. One can read this story and instantly know the characters, because they are all around us. They are us, our families, our friends, and our churches. And its about sin and God and grace.

    Another significant scene where Rev John Ames, who is a Congregationalist pastor, speaks of baptism is about when he was a young student in seminary, and they would watch the Baptists down at the river. He says “It was something to see the preacher lifting the one who was being baptized up out of the water and the water pouring off the garments and the hair. It did look like a birth or a resurrection. For us [speaking of the Congregationalists] the water just heightens the touch of the pastor’s hand on the sweet bones of the head, sort of like making an electrical connection. I’ve always loved to baptize people, though I have sometimes wished there were more shimmer and splash involved in the way we go about it.”

    When I was in seminary I was pastor of a little Methodist church in the Kentucky hills just off the Bluegrass Parkway. The people who attended were an eclectic mix of various Kentucky versions of Campbellites, Methodists, and a couple of Lutherans. I baptized several infants while at the church, but one young man, who had been found by Christ, wanted to be immersed. So one Sunday after church we went down to the river. Walking down the pathway we began singing some old gospel hymn, and some beer drinking fishermen, upon hearing us, immediately packed up and went away. But I’ll never forget this experience, when easing him down under the water, then lifting them back up, the feeling of the moment.

    The young man who was baptized went from that moment on to study for the ministry, and has for many years been a pastor of Methodist churches in Kentucky. Years later one of the District Superintendents of that conference told me that he was “the miracle of the Kentucky Conference.”

    • Daniel Grothe says:

      David, thank you for your really wonderful interaction here. I’m glad someone else loved Gilead as much as I did. Robinson is a force to be reckoned with. “Sort of like making an electrical connection…”

      And your story about the miracle man of the Kentucky Conference is just right. He’s one of those Gilead characters that we can all recognize.

      Be well!

      DG

    • David,

      When I was in college I spent a weekend with a friend who was student-pastor of a small rural Kentucky Methodist church. There was a baptismal service in the Kentucky River. I have been to lake baptisms (being from Florida), but this was my first and so far only river baptism.
      .

      • David Cornwell says:

        Ric, I was trying to remember earlier today if we went to the Kentucky River for the baptism, or a tributary. The Kentucky River is very near the Church, so I think this is where the baptism occurred. This was my only river baptism also. And I am so glad I was part of such a joyful occasion. If I’d remained in Kentucky, I’m sure there would have been more.

  7. Danielle says:

    Thanks for this wonderful reflection. One of the things that has come to entrance me about Scripture, and the Christian tradition flowing from it, are how certain motifs so powerfully evoke a sense of mystery. Yet they are grounded in things that are so immediate and tangible. (“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” -Psalm 42:7). Rather than having to lift one’s self into some great height to see the divine, it is ordinary things that surprise and overwhelm us, and become more than what they were.

    “It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth.” Indeed.

    On a more minor note, this essay reminded me that I need to read “Gilead.” I nearly bought it two weeks ago, then put it off. Clearly that was a mistake.