This Thursday we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus but for now we still continue pondering his farewell speech to his followers. From the position of having all authority on earth and in heaven, he pointed to faith as a dynamic that is not to be just inward focused for the improvement of their lives but was intended to reach out, “go”, to make a better world. “Making disciples” we pondered as a two sided coin. A teacher has not taught until a student has learned. Making a disciple or follower requires being a person worth following. Perhaps integrity is the word we use to talk about congruency between belief and life style.
Jesus continues, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)” Merriam-Webster defines baptize as “to purify or cleanse spiritually especially by a purging experience or ordeal.” When we are baptized, we are washed in water, symbolizing the washing of the soul or the cleansing of the soul by accepting the death of Christ as the payment for sin. The baptized person is considered cleansed in God’s eyes. It is the rite of initiation.
It is interesting to note that the Trinity is mentioned here as a unity. Now we have the mystery named of the three-in-one God. God, by nature is communal, and the initiation is communal representing a reorientation of origin, reorientation of values, and reorientation of source of wisdom. What a mouth full! It is not joining a club by paying fees and learning secret codes. It is not a reward for having achieved a level of intelligence or gathering of good deeds, and is not like having killed a lion so now you have proved yourself a man. It is a reorientation of reality.
Religious wars have been fought over the meaning of these words and just what is implied and required. I cannot answer all those debates but I can testify that the cleansing of one’s soul is a significant moment, whether as an infant or an adult, whether dipped or dunked, whether public or private. Being cleansed and being given a fresh start in life is a gift worth celebrating. Jesus charges his followers to go to others and bring health, cleanness, in relationships with God and world. It is possible to start over, to wake up refreshed, and to experience forgiveness. That for sure is good news.