In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his public ministry. Mark’s narration is short and to the point: a man named John who called people to turn away from their sins baptized Jesus. Jesus was the Son of God and possessed the Holy Spirit. Mark uses language that reminds his readers that Jesus fulfilled many hopes expressed in the Old Testament. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning his ministry of gathering disciples, preaching the nearness of the kingdom, demonstrating works of power and courageously giving himself for others.
The sacrament of baptism, of course, is one of two sacraments observed by the largest part of the Christian church – the other being communion. While there are differences between John’s practice of baptism and the church’s practice of baptism, there are also several points of connection. One which I would like to emphasize here is that baptism is a beginning, not an end.
Sometimes the Christian story is told like this: “I was sinner. I didn’t listen to God and I kept on sinning. I sinned like this and I sinned like that. Then I got saved and was baptized so I’ll go to heaven someday. The end.” The version of the Christian life envisioned in the biblical image of baptism, however, is very different. It goes more like this: “I was a sinner, but God invited me to come to him anyway. So I got baptized. Then I began to live as a member of his family, the church. Then I started to learn more about what my faith means. Then I started to serve him. Then I started to share his love with others. I had set backs, but God has stayed beside me and kept me growing as a Christian. As long as I’m breathing, there will be no end to this story. And when I stop breathing, well that’s just the start of the next chapter.” Baptism marks the beginning of one’s life as a Christian disciple, not just the end of one’s journey to become a Christian believer.