Easter is the time when many adults are baptized and become part of the Church, having completed the time of learning about the faith known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Easter is always focused on baptism and it is the most important time for baptism to take place, as the whole focus is on new life. I always find it very inspiring to see adults lined up for baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is a reminder of what we take for granted. Just a few weeks ago at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, we had the rite of acceptance, where those who are going to come in to the Church are officially accepted, and there were over 300 people there.
Why is baptism so important and what exactly does it mean? In order to make sense of it we need to go way back to the beginning.
We believe that God created everything; the world around us that we see and the invisible world that we cannot yet see. We also believe that God’s greatest creation was the human being, male and female. It says in Genesis that the last thing God created was the human being, which is a biblical way of saying that we were the most important thing that God created. We are more like God than anything else that was created, especially because we have free will. But free will also comes at a cost.
We also believe that somewhere way back at the beginning, humanity sinned against God. There was a rejection of God and of his word, which is explained through the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know that there was some kind of rebellion against God and we call this Original Sin. Our first parents rejected God’s plan and accepted a lie, as a result of which they lost the possibility of eternal life with God, which is heaven, or paradise.
It says in the story that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. They had lost what God originally intended for them. This was the greatest disaster, as we could not undo the damage ourselves.
Because God loves his creation He would not allow his creation to go to ruin and so, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the perfect offering was made to the Father which overcame Original Sin. The power of Original Sin was broken and we were set free, restoring to us the possibility of eternal happiness with God once more. However, because gave us the extraordinary gift of free will, God does not force this on us, but simply offers it to us. God says, ‘I have done this for you and eternal life is won for you, if you accept it, but you must choose it.’ We have to say yes to it. We have to accept this gift which God offers us and we do that by being baptized. When we are baptized we are saying, ‘Yes, I believe this and I want this. Let me have it all. Let me be soaked in it; baptized in it.’ That’s what baptism is. It is our consciously accepting what God has done for us. I accept God and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and all that He is offering me.
At baptism we state what we believe in, just like we say the creed on Sunday, except we do it in question and answer form. The priest, or minister, asks the person being baptized, ‘Do you reject Satan and all his empty promises?... ‘Do you believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?’ and so on. We consciously reject Satan, the one who deceived Adam and Eve, and we accept Jesus Christ as Lord. You cannot serve both, as they are opposites. We accept live with God, or we choose life apart from God. Answering the baptismal questions is really important, because we are saying to God, ‘I believe in you. I accept you. I want to receive the forgiveness you have won for me and all you have done for me.’
If we must consciously choose to be baptized, then why do we baptize infants who don’t yet have the understanding of baptism? We baptize infants because we want this grace for them from the beginning, but on condition that we will teach them their faith as they grow up. Otherwise it is hypocrisy. To baptize an infant without the intention of teaching them about their faith as they grow up, is hypocrisy and that’s why the parents and God-parents make the promises of baptism, promising to pass on the faith as best they can. If an adult comes to me for baptism, they first have to go through what we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, during which time they will learn about their faith. This lasts for about six months. Only when they understand it properly will they be baptized. Recently I spoke to a man who was telling me that he and his wife drove two hours each way to go to the RCIA classes so that they could be baptized. Two hours each way, for several months! That is so inspiring to me.
So, to be baptized is to say yes, I believe all that God has done for me and I want it all. Let me be soaked in it, baptized in it. That is also why we recite the Creed every Sunday. We state what it is we have chosen, similar to making the pledge of allegiance.
What about those who are never baptized, such as our brothers and sisters who are Muslim, or Hindu? Can they go to heaven too? Of course they can if they live their understanding of God as faithfully as they can, or if they have no notion of God, that they listen to their conscience. But even when they die they will see that we only go to heaven through the saving work of Jesus and they will still have to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. We understand that it is necessary for us to be baptized in order to enter life with God, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t bring it about for others who have no understanding of baptism, in a different way. But for us who understand it, baptism is necessary and that’s why it is so important. God’s power is not limited to any one way. God will speak to people of other faiths in ways that we don’t understand.
Where does confirmation fit in? Confirmation is really the other half of baptism. It is the time when we receive the gift of the Spirit to strengthen us for living the Christian life. One confirms the other; hence ‘confirmation.’ For children we wait until they are old enough to understand what confirmation is, since they were baptized when they were too young to understand it. Now that they have come of age, they must also choose. For adults, they usually receive the two together. The important thing is that these are gifts to us from God, to help us. Everything we receive from God is to help us and is given out of love for us. That is why the Apostles baptized people and then prayed with them for the gift of the Spirit, so that they were ready to live the Christian life as God commands us.
Pentecost was the Apostles confirmation, when they received the gift of the Spirit, which immediately took away their fear and they began to preach and tell people who Jesus is and that our path to God is through him.
Easter is when this new life was made possible for us and which is now offered to us and that is why Easter is all about Baptism. It is the time when paradise was restored to us and once again offered to us. God offers it to us, but we must choose it.
Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful.
Enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created
and you shall renew the face of the earth.