The Sunday Gospel lessons in the weeks following Pascha seem to have baptismal themes to them, which is probably why they are found in the lectionary at this point in the year. Pascha was a traditional time to baptize catechumens, and in the weeks after their baptisms, the newly initiated Christians were given lessons in understanding the Mystery of dying and living with Christ. So yesterday’s Gospel (John 5:1-15) reading of the Paralytic being healed at the pool of Bethesda fits well into Gospel lessons used to teach about baptism. This Gospel lesson however might be contrasting the waters of Bethesda with the waters of Baptism. It is Christ who makes the difference. The waters of Bethesda may have been able to hear one fortunate person every so often, but the waters of baptism are able to heal every sinner and restore their full humanity.
In the baptismal liturgy, we pray over the water, and find what it is that the waters which Christ offer us (such that we will never thirst) are:
“But show this water, O Master of all, to be
the water of redemption,
the water of sanctification,
the purification of flesh and spirit,
the loosing of bonds,
the remission of sins,
the illumination of the soul,
the washing of regeneration,
the renewal of the Spirit,
the gift of adoption to sonship,
the garment of incorruption,
the fountain of life.
While some people think baptism is for washing away the guilt of original sin, the prayer over the water tells us the cosmic significance of baptism. It is not just about an individual, nor is it just about the remission of sins. Baptism is about redemption, sanctification, purification, illumination, regeneration, transformation, revelation, and renewal as well as being made an heir of God’s promises and kingdom. Baptism is the beginning of the new life in Christ – we start to live at baptism.
For You have said, O Lord: “Wash and be clean; put away evil things from your souls.” You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the Spirit. Therefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that
he (she) who is baptized therein may be transformed;
that he (she) may put away from himself (herself) the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh,
and that he (she) may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed to him (her),
he (she) may receive the prize of his (her) high calling, and be numbered with the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
In the prayers of baptism, we ask God to manifest Himself in the waters of baptism – the baptized have the God who is love reveal Himself to them. We experience our life as a birth from God! We are born again in baptism, born of God to become God’s children. We experience Christ’s resurrection and receive the Holy Spirit in baptism. We experience the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Our task in life is to live this baptism – we go out into the world to live our life and to preserve our baptismal garments. And, as the prayers say we are to increase the grace given to us. We are not to hide and protect the received grace from contact with the world, but rather are to increase that grace by our life in the world. We use the gift of the Holy Spirit and the grace of baptism or we lose it. We use it in our daily life to increase it. This is the Christian life of loving God and neighbor.