Most Americans are materialists, deep down. They might buy the Brooklyn Bridge if it’s offered at a good price — because they can see the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across it. It seems real to them, even if it’s utterly unreal in terms of the real-estate transaction. What they see is what they want and what they’ll get (or so they think).
Baptism is a small ritual, and it can be seen, and so Americans value it a little bit. But its greater part is invisible, and so we tend to undervalue it grossly.
Baptism is more than a ceremony. It’s more than a rite of passage. The New Testament calls it “enlightenment” (Hebrews 10:32; Ephesians 5:8) and a “washing” (Titus 3:5). And those metaphors seem wonderful, but still weak.
Jesus says baptism is a new birth (John 3:5-7); and that, of course, seems much closer to precision.
St. Paul speaks of baptism as if it were a reboot of the entire universe — a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).
And it is THAT BIG A DEAL.
Baptism empowers people to live in Jesus (Colossians 2:6,10) — and it gives him permission to live in them (Colossians 1:27). And that means that a person newly baptized has “come to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Believe me: Sharing God’s nature is the biggest promotion any of us will ever see.
The early Christians dared to call this process “divinization” and “deification.” In baptism we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1-14).
The New Testament is emphatically clear on this point: Baptism brings about the biggest change imaginable. If we could transform aluminum foil into gold, we’d get rich, but that would be nothing compared to the transformation that takes place at the baptismal font. In baptism, God takes a tiny human being and makes that baby God-like.
Baptism is an outward sign of something invisible. The sign is beautiful; but what it signifies is infinitely larger. Baptism is a symbol, but not just a symbol. Unless we realize that, we’re undervaluing baptism.
At the moment of our conception, God created us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). But, at the moment of our baptism, God makes us even more like himself.
This is the power of Easter, which in the ancient Church was the season of baptism.
How can we even begin to celebrate all that we have received?