Last week, we described Sacraments as both affective and effective. A Sacrament actually accomplishes that which is promised by God and proclaimed in the Liturgy while at the same time we feel and experience Grace. As we consider this week the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, it is reasonable to consider what is actually accomplished.
As always, our first look should be to Scripture. How does Scripture describe what happens in baptism? Jesus commissions the Apostles and through them the church to walk in his authority, going about making disciples by teaching them all that He commanded and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised to be present to them for all time in these actions (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus, we expect and anticipate to meet the power and the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism. Peter declares to those who ask what they must do to be saved, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul describes baptism as participation in Christ’s death so that we may rise with Him in new life (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). In baptism, we are cleansed from sin and restored into newness of life.
Next, we turn to the 39 Articles. Article XXVII states, “Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men [and women] are discerned from others that be not christened, but is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the church; the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, and visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.”
Finally, we turn to the liturgy for Holy Baptism. In the instructions for the service in the Book of Common Prayer we find that the appropriate time and place for Holy Baptism is during the Sunday service. In this, we are reminded that baptism is not an individual rite but a communal activity. Before the baptism the sponsors, parents, Godparents, candidates, and congregation are called upon to renounce the devil, turn toward God, and walk in faithful service. We see these themes repeated in prayers over those who are baptized and over the water of baptism. For the purpose of this short exploration of baptism, the prayer of thanksgiving over the water describes well what happens to form us by the Sacrament of Baptism.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are made regenerate by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Recently, I talked with someone who had recently participated in a naturalization ceremony to become a citizen of the United States. As this person described the power and the joy they experienced as they were proclaimed a citizen of this country, I could not help but reflect on the joy we experience as we consider that in our baptism we are proclaimed by God as His Children and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.