Three. that is the number of times I have been baptized.
One could say I took this Anabaptist thing a little too literally. I was baptized once in grade school, again in middle school and again in high school. Each was done at a different church by a different pastor.
I remember my baptism in high school as the only one where I felt I made a conscious choice. But I was baptized without any real knowledge of what baptism is or why we as Christians do it.
I knew it was important. I knew the Bible talked about it. I knew Jesus did it. That was enough for me.
In seminary, we had a service where we were called to remember our baptism. I remembered all three of mine. Afterward I questioned a Presbyterian friend about this practice. Since he was baptized at birth, I was curious to how he could remember his baptism.
The look on his face let me know this question was an ignorant one. He responded, “Well, I don’t think anyone can remember their baptism.” I was taken aback, because I could vividly remember when I was dunked in water.
My friend informed me the act of remembering one’s baptism is not about remembering the moment when it happened. It is about remembering why we are baptized and what baptism means for us.
I believe this way of remembering is necessary during this time.
In the gospel of Luke, John calls for the people of Jerusalem to be baptized and to repent (3:3). Repentance becomes a part of our baptism. When the crowds ask John what they should do, he tells them to share their possessions with those who have none. The tax collectors are told to stop collecting unjust taxes. The soldiers are told to no longer abuse their power (3:10-14). This is the repentance that baptism calls us to.
Baptism by water is a sign of an inward change. When we remember our baptism, we remember this change. We remember the call to turn away from sin. As perpetuators of violence and oppression, we are given the opportunity to repent and work with God to make things right.
We are currently in a time where people are realizing the harm that has been done to the Black community, immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community. Now is the time for us to remember our repentance when we were baptized. God has offered us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When we remember our baptism, we remember we are to repent for the oppression we have caused.
Baptism also gives the believer a sense of belonging. The one who is baptized is welcomed into a community of believers. The community celebrates the addition to its number.
Baptism is a covenant not only with God but also the church. We no longer belong to the world but to the kingdom of God.
In the united states we are bracing for a presidential election in November. Election years always bring up questions of nationalism and what the Christian’s response to politics should be. What political ideology should a Christian embody?
Through our baptism, we are welcomed into the kingdom of God, and we are called to participate in the ushering in of that kingdom. The political powers of this world will always fail, but we as baptized believers must remember who we belong to. We do not belong to the world. We belong to God. Our baptism is our resistance to the nationalistic pressure that is placed upon us.
When we are baptized, we say yes to God and no to the evils of this world. We decide to live by a new ethic that loves and cares for our neighbors. We commit to assisting in the dismantling of all that oppresses God’s creation. Through baptism we find belonging in a community that advocates for peace, justice and freedom of the oppressed.
Now is the perfect time for us to remember our baptism. To remember the call of repentance. To remember where we belong. To remember the promise God made to us.
In a year filled with wildfires, racial injustice, political unrest, hurricanes and a global pandemic, remembering our baptism may be the thing that helps to center us. We are reminded of the need for repentance and the need to make things right. We are reminded of the community we belong to. We are reminded of our call as Christians to work as vehicles of liberation for the oppressed.
Jerrell Williams is pastor of Salem Mennonite Church in Oregon. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a master of divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.