What is the significance of baptism?

John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

John 1:32-33

Dear members and friends,

Baptism is one of the two rituals that symbolize the practice of Christianity. Each year I baptize about 20 children. Interestingly, about 90% of the parents who baptize their children do not attend any Christian church actively. Yet when I ask, “why do you want to baptize your child?”, they all answer with a degree of certainty, “We believe baptism is very important.” Of course, their actual reasons vary. However, it’s very clear that for one reason or another the ritual of baptism is seen as significant and necessary.

The importance and ritualistic significance of baptism arose from Jesus. Cleansing of one’s wrongdoing with water had been an ancient practice by Israelites as it is written in Leviticus. There are two significant differences between cleaning with water in the Old Testament and baptism in Gospels: 1. Cleansing with water was a private ritual, while a baptism was conducted in public; 2. Cleansing with water was a ritual done mostly by oneself, while a baptism was always officiated by someone who represents God. These two differences probably are two factors that differentiate the characteristics of Judaism and Christianity: tribal versus universal.

Another aspect of baptism is the mystical experience that could be perceived by the recipients regardless of their age. According to Swedenborg, the baptism of infants, toddlers, and little children is powerful because it means an invitation to angels and God to be actively involved with the child. The baptism of youth and adults is powerful because it means an acknowledgement and acceptance of both reality and the presence of God as the Creator into their mind and life, which could trigger a mystical experience. Personally, I received two baptisms; one when I was 15 and another when I was 28. The first one was required by the authority of the church and thus did not trigger anything in my mind. But the second one was my own choice and I felt the strong presence of my Creator descending upon me with a sense of blessing, comfort and assurance.

My brothers and sisters in God, let us take a moment this week to acknowledge the unchanging presence of Divine within and around us, and to send a willing invitation for God to be involved with our lives.      

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee