In the last newsletter we began to look at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I commented on how we have been commanded as Christ’s disciples to baptize in his name. And this is how we have been instructed to go about making disciples. We are to baptize in the Triune Name of God and to catechize (Matt. 28:19-20).
This week I want us to understand what we are talking about when we use the term “baptize”. Interestingly, the English word is drawn from the Greek baptizo which literally means to wash or make clean with water. It is the same word used when cups and dishes are washed. But this common word is employed by our Lord to have a very special meaning when used as a rite in making disciples.
To recall what I shared last time, Luther says of this rite, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” It is important to emphasize here, that this is not a man-made rite! Human ingenuity did not dream up a creative way to have a rite of initiation. Nor did human imagination design a picturesque way of illustrating the dying to sin and rising to new life that occurs when a person comes to Christ! Instead, our Lord Jesus himself gave specific instructions and orders of how to go about evangelism.
Of course Christian Baptism was already in the making with the divinely inspired baptism that John the Baptist was proclaiming. And with his baptism we learned of the need to have our sins washed away.
That God works in and through his created order to mediate his grace is not surprising! After all, his Son became Incarnate, assuming our humanity, so that through him the Invisible God became visible! Baptism becomes a chosen means where the Word of promise becomes visible, along with being audible, so that we might come to trust in Christ’s work on the Cross.
What is the meaning of “Lent”?
The English word “Lent” means “springtime”. Lent is the six-week period of spiritual discipline before Easter (40 days not counting Sundays). At an early period in the Church’s history baptisms might only be celebrated once a year at the Easter Vigil Service. Accordingly there was a period prior to this of introducing and training candidates for baptism. In time the training for baptismal candidates grew to a six week period, and this training involved fasting. The 40 days was, no doubt, modeled on the 40 days of our Lord Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness before his temptations by the devil. As the years passed the Lenten fast began to be applied, not only to the baptismal candidates, but to the church as a whole. Church members were encouraged to approach Easter in the same manner in which they had solemnly prepared for their baptisms. That is why the Season of Lent has finally developed as a time for fasting, study, prayer, acts of love, and humility. (with help from The Westminster Dictionary of Worship, edited by J.G. Davies, The Westminster Press.)