Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Great Vigil of Easter: The Service of Holy Baptism

In the early church, baptisms were held at specific points in the year. Easter Vigil being the chief service for baptisms, followed by Pentecost Sunday and perhaps the Day of Epiphany.

There is much that divides the Church regarding baptism. Some believe baptism imparts faith, others believe you must have faith in order to be baptized. Some believe it must be done by immersion, others are not concerned with the mode, only that it get done.

Here are some important Scripture verses on the topic:

Romans 6:1-4

What shall we say then?
Are we to continue in sin
that grace may abound?
By no means!
How can we who died to sin
still live in it?
Do you not know that all of us
who have been baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him
by baptism into death,

in order that,
just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.


Colossians 2:8-15

See to it that no one takes you captive
by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the world,
and not according to Christ.
For in him the whole fullness of deity
dwells bodily,
and you have been filled in him,
who is the head of all rule and authority.
In him also you were circumcised
with a circumcision made without hands,
by putting off the body of the flesh,
by the circumcision of Christ,
having been buried with him in baptism,
in which you were also raised with him
through faith in the powerful working of God,
who raised him from the dead.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses
and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
God made alive together with him,
having forgiven us all our trespasses,
by canceling the record of debt
that stood against us with its legal demands.
This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities
and put them to open shame,
by triumphing over them in him.


Titus 3:4-6

But when the goodness and loving kindness
of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us,
not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but according to his own mercy,
by the washing of regeneration
and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

whom he poured out on us richly
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that being justified by his grace
we might become heirs
according to the hope of eternal life.


1 Peter 3:18-21

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh
but made alive in the spirit,
in which he went and proclaimed
to the spirits in prison,
because they formerly did not obey,
when God's patience waited
in the days of Noah,
while the ark was being prepared,
in which a few, that is, eight persons,
were brought safely through water.
Baptism, which corresponds to this,
now saves you,

not as a removal of dirt from the body
but as an appeal to God
for a good conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,


I bring these Scriptures to light in order to emphasize what the Small Catechism has to say about Baptism.

First. What is Baptism?

Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God's command and connected with God's Word.

Which is that Word of God?

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly. What does Baptism give or profit?

It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God?

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

How can water do such great things?

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly. What does such baptizing with water signify?

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Now for the mode of Baptism. Sprinkling? Immersion? Lutherans have never been concerned with the mode of Baptism. We have only been concerned with getting the job done! Immersion is not offensive to us. The insistence on immersion is.

Immersion is a beautiful way to capture the above scripture text from Colossians:

having been buried with him in baptism,
in which you were also raised with him

In the historic Christian tradition, infants are baptized shortly after birth, while adults are first instructed in the faith and then baptized. Adults who are being instructed before baptism are called "catechumens." Infant baptism is practiced only when adults are stepping up to the plate to raise the child in the Church and see to it that the child is catechized properly.

Here is an amazing video of immersion baptisms at the Great Vigil of Easter. There isn't much detail over on youtube. It appears to be a remote place, perhaps tropical like an island or something. Take note that the archbishop and deacon are standing in dry places. The catechumens go into the baptistry FULLY CLOTHED! The deacon, it appears, is given a card with the name of the catechumen on it, and presents it to the archbishop so he knows who he is baptizing. Perhaps this is a mission post. There are many, many, many catechumens!

In the Lutheran Rite, the baptism does not need to be administered by a bishop or archbishop. The local pastor is given this authority by virtue of his call to the local parish.

This is a blog about hymns, and the hymn in the above video does not particularly speak to Baptism. Even though there are many being baptized, the congregation serves as witnesses to this, and they must be able to hear the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" no matter how many are being baptized. There is a liturgical text that may be sung as a response to the Baptism. Youtube footage was not available, though.

You have put on Christ;
In Him you were baptized.

This is known as the Baptismal Acclamation. The short song may be repeated as many times as is needed. You can let a few Alleluias slip in here, too. It should not be sung during the baptism, but after it. Perhaps as the newly baptize return to their seats, or during the Sprinkling Rite.

Speaking of Sprinkling Rites, Lutherans do not have official "holy water." That being said, Lutherans are to remember their Baptism, and one way to do that is through a sprinkling rite. Good catechesis needs to precede such a rite, especially if the consecrated baptismal water is used. It needs to be explained that they are not being re-baptized, that one baptism is all that is necessary, and that this is a remembrance of the saving act of baptism.

Here is video of a sprinkling rite in a Roman Catholic parish in Schenectady, NY. In this parish, "This is the Feast" is sung during the rite. Lutherans would hold off on singing that until after the sprinkling rite. More on that in the next post...

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