Breath of the Spirit Reflection: The Welcoming and Commissioning Sacramentalities of Baptism
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January 10th, 2021: The Baptism of Christ
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
Reflection from delfín w. bautista
In reflecting over Jesus’ baptism, I began to reflect on my own baptism and the sacrament as a whole. What is the meaning of baptism today? Why don’t we talk about baptism beyond what outfit the baby will wear, the politics of who the godparents will be, do we have to continue to go to church, will this be full immersion or just a sprinkle?
One of the insights shared through the writers of Isaiah, Acts, and Mark, is that baptism is a ritual of welcome and commissioning. For centuries, individuals have been baptized as a way of welcoming them initially into the emerging Christian tribe and later on into the family of the church by washing away the mark of original sin. This in itself sparks a desire for more deconstruction and wanting to explore the dynamics of original sin and original blessing, but that is a reflection for another time. What Isaiah proclaims and what both Acts and Mark celebrate is the recognition that through baptism a mission is bestowed—a mission to bring forth justice in the here and now. We are initiated into a community of believers whose beliefs are not just philosophical but embodied actions that disrupt systems of oppression and marginalization.
Why is the sacramentality of justice in baptism overlooked? In the midst of all that is happening in the world—political strife, global pandemic, racial unrest, attacks on the rights of LGBTQI people, attempts to restrict reproductive choices, environmental changes—why not tap into the prophetic undertones and overtones of baptism as a welcoming that commissions to seek justice on both sides of the church doors? Through this rite, we are graced with gifts to speak truth to power, topple oppressive systems, and bring healing to those hurt by marginalization and minoritization. We are anointed to shatter the shadows within ourselves, within our communities, and within our world. We are called to break the metaphoric prisons in our world: white supremacy, sexism, patriarchy, cis-supremacy, heteronormativity, and other systems of unchecked power and privilege. We are also called to break the literal institutional prisons in our world such as the education system that does not educate all equally or equitably, a criminal justice system founded on racism and subjugation, a healthcare system that overlooks the wellbeing of vulnerable communities, a political system that privileges power over people.
What would happen if we harnessed the power of baptism to transform the church and world? Perhaps when we are asked to renew our baptismal vows, we can invite and challenge folks to not just reaffirm their beliefs but discern what does it mean to live into the beliefs in our daily lives? This is not just about taking part in rallies and protests, but simple yet powerful acts of justice in our everyday lives such as using our social media outlets to raise awareness to writing letters to the editor to saying thank you to the grocery store cashier to offering prayers of solidarity with those impacted by the pandemic. There is no right or wrong way to live into and to live out justice—we just need to make sure we are actively seeking it and embodying it in whatever ways we can. Through baptism, we become part of a community of fellow seekers and doers of justice. We are reminded that we are not alone but part of a communion of folks who actively widen the kindom of Goddess in this world. We are part of a communion of ancestors, transcestors, holy rebel rousers, people of the here and now, and those who will continue after us. We are not alone in our calling to be church.
I share one last thought and insight from these readings. In reflecting over the multiple sacramentalities of baptism, it struck me that the stories of Jesus’ baptism can be explored as stories of trans affirmation. As Mark and Acts share, Jesus’ identity is confirmed and lifted up. As a trans person myself, it is similar to the moment where I came to embrace who I am. Our journeys of discovering, claiming, reclaiming, embracing, and expressing our wholeness are sacred journeys. There comes a moment where we are beheld and beloved. Our trans baptism is not the end of a journey but a moment of celebration that blesses the journeys we’ve been on, the moment we are living, and the journeys to come.
What was it like for Jesus in that moment to be beheld and to be beloved? What was it like for Jesus to be recognized and affirmed? What is it like for us as trans people, as queer people, as people of color, people living with disabilities—as people who have been marginalized and told that we should not exist—to live a moment where we are embraced, where we are beheld, where we are beloved? I reflect on the moments where I was recognized and affirmed as a person and not as an issue (the experiences of mini-baptisms when pronouns are respected, when we can dress as us and not be shamed, when our lives are not pathologized, when we can use restrooms peacefully without fear, when our lives matter when we are alive and not just after we are murdered).
There is more to unpack with these readings but for now will leave it here. Baptism is more than just a welcoming rite; as witnessed in Jesus’ life and the lives of so many others, our baptisms commission us to seek justice in the world as we baptize others with moments of being beheld and beloved. Amen, que así sea!
delfín w. bautista, they/ them/elles/mx or just delfín.
delfín is a native of Miami, FL, is of Cuban and Salvadoran heritage, and currently lives in Athens, OH with their beloved of 18 years. A social worker and activist theologian, delfín is passionate about intersectional justice and resilience, especially around the experiences of queer people of color. delfín is a past member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and Trans Caucus and currently serves on the Vision Council for Call To Action.