The Baptism & Communion Connection
There are 2 sacraments in the United Church of Christ denomination – baptism and communion. It is the first Sunday of the month – and year – and normally a Communion Sunday. Today in the Christian calendar is the Sunday we recall and reflect on the Baptism of the Lord. So, both of our sacraments are a focus today.
Maybe you wonder, are these two
sacraments connected? They seem very different. Baptism looks nothing like
But our scripture reading from
the Gospel of Mark points to how baptism and communion are connected. Let’s
delve into it, shall we?
I’d like to begin by looking at
what John the Baptist’s baptism looked like. How Jesus was baptized, in other
We don’t get a full description,
but we get a hint in the first part of verse 10 – “as he was coming out of the
If Jesus was coming up out of
the water, he must have first been down in the water, right?
So, what this tells us is John
baptized people using full emersion. The whole body is submerged in the
water, then, emerges out of the water. Maybe you’ve seen this take place
either in video or in person. It is not an unusual visual.
That’s what it looked like. But
what did baptism mean for John? Was it simply a thing he did to symbolize the
washing away of sin, a kind of purification ritual?
No, it was much more than that.
For John as a practicing Jews, baptism – mikvah in Hebrew – was a symbolic act
of willful death to self followed by spiritual rebirth. As a writer for the
webzine the Wailing Wall states, “Mikvah personifies both the womb and the
grave and consequently, rebirth.”
Being submerged in the water
represented being overcome by the water, a figurative drowning of the old self.
Then the emergence happens. The
old self dies, and a new self is born as it emerges out of the water.
John uses the word repent. In
the biblical languages, repent means a heart shift, a mind change, a spirit
transformation. The baptism was a way to give a picture, a physical
representation, of the spiritual shift that comes with true repentance.
Now, did Jesus need a heart
shift, a mind change, a spiritual transformation? No. Jesus reached that level
a long, long time ago. After all, even before his baptism, Jesus embodied the
way of God.
Jesus’ baptism pointed to
something else. Something John the Baptist didn’t really understand.
In the story of Jesus’ baptism
found in the Gospel of the Apostle John, John the Baptist sees
Jesus the day after he was baptized and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who
takes away the sins of the world.”
Jesus’ baptism foreshadowed just
that. Christ’s baptism foreshadowed his selfless sacrifice on the cross and his
resurrection from the tomb.
Submergence – this begins with
the Garden of Gethsemane. What happens there? Jesus submits his will to God’s
will there. “Not my will but your will be done.”
We underestimate that moment. We
as Christians sing about Jesus’ blood saving us. But without Christ’s
submission to God’s will in that moment, no sacrifice would have happened and
no blood would have been shed.
As for the Cross itself, Christ
figurative drowning in his baptism foreshadowed his last gasps of breath on the
Paul makes this connection in
Ephesians 4, verses 8-10:
it is said,
he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had
also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He
who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that
he might fill all things.)
Christ’s death on the Cross is a
descent, Paul is saying. Just like Jesus descended into the waters of baptism,
in death he descends to the very depths of hell to save all beings.
But he doesn’t keep descending.
The Cross of death cannot hold him. Death holds no sting. What descends,
ascends. What is submerged, emerges anew.
Jesus comes up out of the water.
He rises up. Emptying the tomb with a new, glorified body as Paul says.
Jesus’ emergence from the waters
of baptism foreshadows his resurrection.
So, before we look at how this
applies to our spiritual lives – and that is the essential question for a
sermon – let me get to the gist of what I’ve been teaching about this
morning. Christ’s baptism, points to the cross and the empty tomb. And so does
the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament that Jesus introduced, what we call Communion.
Its not only Jesus’ baptism that
points to the cross and the empty tomb. Our baptisms do too.
Romans 6:3-4 says,
"Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life."
Colossians 2:12 nicely summarizes this: "When you were
buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the
power of God, who raised him from the dead."
As for Communion, it also points
to the cross and the empty tomb, of course. The bread and the wine or juice
point to the body broken and blood shed for us. The church, we, the body of
Christ, in which Communion happens points to the resurrected one.
Communion is also a time we
recall our baptism. That’s right, Communion is a reminder of our Baptism, our
death and resurrection in Christ.
The Communion we partake in and the Baptism we remember bring us to the Cross. And what ought we do at the cross?
Isaac Watts in that old hymn tells us:
Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and fade mine eyes to tears.
But drops of tears can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
'tis all that I can do.
Dissolve our hearts in thankfulness.
Fade ourselves into tears.
Give ourselves away.
That’s all we can do there at the cross.