No Stranger Thing Than Baptism

Credit: Aleksandr_Gromov / Thinkstock

Christians do fuzzy math: one God in three Persons, a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, etc. My favorite Christian math has to do with Sunday. Hear Basil the Great’s words from his treatise on the Holy Spirit:

Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses does not call it the first day, but one day: ‘And there was   evening and there was morning, one day’ since this day would recur many times. Therefore ‘one’ and ‘eight’ are the same, and the ‘one’ day really refers both to itself and to the ‘eighth’ day…This day foreshadows the state which is to follow the present age: a day without sunset, nightfall, or successor, an age which does not grow old or come to an end.”

For someone who still has to count on his fingers to make change, I had to read this a few times before I understood what St. Basil was saying. In the Genesis account, God begins the work of creation on Day 1 (Sunday by our reckoning). God completes His work on the sixth day (Friday) and rests from His labors on the Sabbath (Saturday). Christ’s earthly work is completed on top of a hill on Good Friday as he cries out, “it is finished.” He “rests” in the tomb on Holy Saturday and on the first day of the week—the same day that God wrought the first creation—Christ comes forth from the tomb as the first fruits of the new creation. Sunday, for Christians, is an eschatological day because on that day of the week, our Lord inaugurated the new creation. Sunday is the “eighth day” of creation.

Eight-Sided Baptismal Fonts

The early church was so compelled by this eschatological perspective that they often used baptismal fonts with eight sides. The symbolism would not have been lost on those being baptized: by participating in the sacrament of baptism, one enters into this new eighth-day reality. Whether or not we were baptized in an eight-sided font, we too enter into an eschatological reality in our baptism. We die to Christ and rise to new life in Him. And we now function as emissaries of the coming kingdom.

Overlapping Spheres of Influence

In his excellent book, Surprised by Hope, NT Wright helps us envision our current age as one of overlapping spheres of influence. Because of His death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ is the ruling Lord of all. Yet the powers and principalities continue to rage around us. While some would be tempted to view Christ’s ascension and promised return as an exit strategy from the mess that surrounds us, Wright argues that the more biblical perspective is one of a God who has already inaugurated the new creation in the first fruits of the resurrected Christ. The Kingdom of God, then, has downward momentum and overlaps with the principalities of the present age. This “already-but-not-yet” perspective means that Christians operate as those who see and participate in the new creation even in the midst of the tumult around us.

Stranger than Sci-Fi?

Like some of you, I binged watched the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things. Without spoiling the story line, the basic plot hinges on the concept of another realm that overlaps with the “real” world. This “upside down” realm is one of darkness and decay. Not only can some characters enter this alternate reality through select portals, but at times the two realms impact each other—events in the “upside down” have significant ramifications in the “real” world. If you’re still hanging with me, I want to suggest that for a Christian the new creation functions as a realm which overlaps with our current world. Unlike the death and decay that defines the “upside down” realm in Stranger Things, we participate in the “right side up” of the coming Kingdom. We enter this realm via the “portal” of our baptism and as we gather together in worship we are renewed in our ability to see the “right side up.” This, at least, seems to be the perspective of St. Basil.

We are three weeks away from the start of Lent—historically a time when those who desired to be baptized would prepare for the sacrament as the entire Church would remember their own baptisms. Increasingly, I sense a deep need to remember the eschatological significance of my own baptism. I need to remember that although the powers and principalities seem to prevail around me, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. In light of this greatest reality, we are called to be emissaries of the new creation by virtue of our baptism. May it be so. Maranatha!

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Matthew Sigler is Assistant Professor ofWesleyan Theology and United Methodist Liaison at Seattle Pacific University. He holds a PhD in liturgical studies from Boston University where his work focused on the history of Methodist worship as well as lyrical theology. Prior to coming to SPU, Matt served for twelve years as a music minister in the church. He

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