Though it contains individual dimensions, the Christian life is fundamentally a corporate exercise, not a solitary quest. This communal context makes our life as Christians easier because we live out Christian discipleship not solely on our own, but within a community to which we are accountable, and which is accountable to us. The faith community is the Body of Christ, of which we become members at baptism. As part of this body, we participate in the sacraments, and we are built up by the teaching, preaching, guidance, and companionship that we receive. We meet Jesus in the community of his disciples, the church. We continually experience Jesus as an abiding presence.
This Sunday, we will celebrate the baptism of two beautiful infants, Sophia and Darling. We may wonder what baptism can possibly mean to them, since they cannot yet understand the significance of what is taking place. Though they cannot make a personal response of faith, God’s gracious gifts for these infants are evident. Faith is an essential element in infant baptism, as it is the faith of the church that we pass along to these newest and youngest members. Each of us participates in a covenant relationship of faith with them when, in the baptismal liturgy, we promise to “do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ.” This relationship is especially embodied in the covenant promises of their parents and godparents.
In the natural order of things, children inherit all sorts of conditions which they will only understand later. God graciously gives all the baptised the fullness of life in Christ: sharing Jesus’s death and resurrection and becoming members of his body, the church; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; even the forgiveness of sins. Of course, babies do not need forgiveness now for personal sins, but they will later. Each of us is born into a world, society, and family warped by sin. Yet baptism pushes our boundaries beyond the limitations of sin into the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of resurrection.
After baptising Sophia and Darling with water, a priest will mark their foreheads with chrism—olive oil that the bishop blesses for this purpose every year during Holy Week. “Chrism” and “Christ” are related words. Christ means “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” Just as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Christ at his baptism, so we are anointed with the Holy Spirit at ours. We belong to Christ through the sanctifying and creative energy of the Holy Spirit. Chrism is applied to our foreheads in “the sign of the cross.” With this sign, Jesus’s death is stamped on our flesh and into our souls.
The newly baptised will then receive a small candle lit from the large paschal candle that is lit anew at Easter. Signifying the light of the Risen Lord, the paschal candle stands near the font at every baptism, and it stands prominently at every funeral. The light of the Risen Christ frames our baptismal life from font to grave. Death is not the end of the story; we are baptised into the joy of the paschal mystery as we receive the promise of resurrection.
Jesus’s death and resurrection are not simply marvellous events that happened some 2,000 years ago. Baptism links us to Jesus’s death and resurrection today. Through our baptism, Jesus’s death and resurrection get inside us. From the moment of our baptism, our very identities are shaped by these realities. Anytime we celebrate the baptismal liturgy, we dramatize and enact the process of becoming one with Christ by sharing in his death and resurrection. It is a process that reverberates through every season of our lives, from infancy to old age. We never get to the bottom of it, yet it becomes the lens through which we interpret the world and the events of our lives.