Our mortality is difficult to face. Even more difficult is to contmeplate the mortality of our children. Yet the ritual of baptism faces the reality of death head on.
When my daughter Suzanne was about two years old, she was diagnosed with mitral valve insufficiency, which means she had a small hole in her heart. The cardiologist told us that she would need open heart surgery to repair her heart. Such surgery required stopping Suzanne’s heart and placing her on a heart/lung machine while the surgeon closed the hole. Such surgery had become routine in the early 90’s, yet nothing is routine when it comes to one’s own child. The news rocked my world.
That night I stood over her bed as Suzanne slept. I prayed for Suzanne and her upcoming surgery. I prayed concerning my own fear and apprehension. Tears welled up. Then I contemplated the promise God made to her in her baptism.
Baptism holds a bold declaration and even bolder promise. In his letter to Romans, Paul writes
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
Paul uses the act of baptism by immersion, where the baptized person is completely submerged under the water. This immersion is a symbolic burial, just as Jesus died and was buried. In baptism we die with Jesus. Paul goes on to write that in baptism, “our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).” Baptism recognizes our mortality comes from our sin, our rebellion with God, and overcomes the power of sin by burying our sinful self with Christ. In stark terms, baptism declares us dead.
But it goes beyond that declaration to a more glorious promise. Not only are we buried with Jesus, but, like Jesus, we are raised to newness of life. The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. In baptism we are joined to his resurrection. Symbolically this is expressed in an immersion baptism when the newly baptized is raised up out of the water, breathing the new life.
As I stood over my daughter’s bed, contemplating her pending surgery, I remembered this promise. She was alive in Christ and was already experiencing the newness of life. Even if she were to die in surgery, she was Christ’s child and held by the promise of eternal life.
Her surgery went well and she recovered quickly (though, as with any trauma, she did have some emotional residue that was challenging for her and her family at times). Today, twenty years later, she is a vivacious, creative young woman who I deeply love. I am glad that she remains on this earth.
Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and walk in newness of life with you today.