Monday, June 7, 2010

The dual nature of baptism.

In the "Fellowship of the Baptized" Archbishop Rowan Williams makes some fantastic remarks about baptism. First he identifies the baptized identity as "being where Jesus is". Baptism "places us in the place of Jesus". Or, in the words of James Alison, in baptism we are made to "swim with the ugly ducking [Jesus]. We have agreed to undergo death in advance, to occupy the place of shame and curse voluntarily, to be forever linked to the class fairy" [i.e., the kid everyone else picks on in school].

But Jesus stands in more than one place, says Williams:
Jesus is in the neighbourhood of God the Father and so when we stand where Jesus is we too are in that neighbourhood and we learn his language of his relation to God the Father. But the incarnate Jesus is also in the neighbourhood of the chaos and the suffering of the world – a world he has entered to transform.
Because Jesus stands in this dual relationship, we also must learn to live in this dual nature of baptism. We cannot choose one over the other. Not only are we in relationship with God and with all Christians, we are
in solidarity with an unlimited variety of human experience that relates to the darkness and the chaos into which Jesus descends in his incarnation. We are in the neighbourhood of a darkness inside and outside the Church, inside and outside our own hearts. In sinu peccatoris: in the bosom—the heart—of what sin means.
Baptism is not the establishing of a static relationship. It is not "the experience of endings, but of repeated new beginnings.
We don't simply acquire a relationship with God the Father which then requires us to do nothing more. On the contrary, to be baptized is to be constantly re-awakening our expectation, our penitence, our protest, our awareness that the chaos and darkness of the world is not what God wills; our awareness that we are colluding with that state of chaos which God does not will. So as baptized persons we look constantly into ourselves, rediscovering over and over again the hope that comes out of true repentance.
We see how the dual nature of baptism works out in the life of the church. We stand in relationship with God and thus we are all one in Christ. It is the recognition of this reality that allows Paul to says that there is "one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Eph 4:4-6).

And yet we see division all around us. This is because we also stand in the "neighborhood of chaos and the suffering of the world". We are a self-wounding body and we "divide and divide again, and divide again and again". This is the state in which we live. But this wounded body also heals itself because it is, after all, Christ's body.
What heals the wounds in the Body of Christ is the stubborn, unchanging reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised to be there, who has promised that he will not abandon his body. So the unconditional covenant he has made to be with us—Emmanuel, 'God with us'—heals and restores his Body time and again. Which is why the practice of the Eucharist is at the heart of the Church because in the Eucharist, in the total self-giving of Christ to his people embodied in the sharing of his body and blood, the unconditional covenant is affirmed. When we come to Holy Communion we rediscover not just a story about Jesus that happened a long time ago, we rediscover the unchanging reality of what some theological traditions call 'the covenant of grace' as renewed in the Eucharist.
Links
"The Fellowship of the Baptized", the John Coventry Memorial address by Rowan Williams.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.