Labor and Redemption: Baptism

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV).

M was screaming. Our nurse had changed and swaddled her. She attempted in vain to calm M telling us she was sorry she disturbed our tiny love. She wants Mommy, that precious woman said to me. For a split second I wondered who she meant until it occurred to me that she meant me. I held my arms out, uncertain that squirmy newborn would receive my embrace, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to calm her. The moment I took my daughter she quieted to nestle into me. Then I realized. I was Mommy.

 ⁕

You must be born again, Jesus instructs a man seeking the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus misses the metaphor. Can someone enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? This is the lesser known context of the famous John 3:16. A grown man asking Jesus how he’s going to crawl back up his mother’s vagina. Jesus explains. No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

Babies are suspended in a bag of waters in the womb. It is dim, cushioning, protective. It must break to allow them into the world. Even if the bag of waters breaks before the baby is born, the mother’s body will continue producing this fluid to protect the child. Babies crown and birth with a gush water and blood. It’s beautiful, profound, and powerful. It’s earthy, costly, and, by biblical standards, unclean. They burst into cold open trembling and crying. Newborns are purple, sticky, bloody. Their eyes do not quite open. They are creatures of instinct, seeking reminders of the womb. They want to go home to their mother’s smell, heartbeat, and warmth. My daughters didn’t cry when I held them. They clutched me as though that split second between the womb and my arms was the worst moment they would ever experience in their lives. The world big, cold, and uncertain, they innately reach for their childbearer to help and guide them.

Skin to skin, my nurse, advised as she helped remove my clothes and bra. Skin to skin will regulate my baby’s temperature, breath, and heartbeat. As my baby lays on my open chest, she will begin to crawl toward nourishment. I don’t help her, I just wait until she latches for the first time. She knows who I am and what I offer her. If I hold her, she will learn to breathe and to eat, her body’s temperature will rise to meet mine. Again, and again, she returns to my chest. She breathes with me. Listening to my heartbeat, hers joins the rhythm.

… and be baptized, is the ever-present secondary command to Repent. The Church follows this command in many ways. Some baptize their babies, some sprinkle, some baptize upon a believer’s confession of faith, some immerse. Some churches use elaborate baptismal founts, others a simple bowl. Some churches use a built-in baptismal pool or a horse trough outside in the yard, others go to pools or lakes or oceans. However we do it, whenever we do it, baptism represents our testimony – that we are born again. Born first of a woman, born again of water and Spirit.   

Jesus gives us imagery that presses against the patriarchal language the Church so loves – God as the mother birthing his children with water, Spirit, and blood. We are birthed into new life by the blood of our Redeemer and the waters of baptism in which he commands us to wash. It is powerful, profound, costly. Baptism may not be the means by which we receive the Spirit or New Life, but it is the Divinely mandated picture of our faith.

We walk into waters that dim, cushion, and protect us. We are buried into these waters in the way that we were entombed in our mother’s womb. We cannot stay within the waters, protected from the world outside. The bag of waters must burst if we are to be born. The waters rush over us for a moment then release us, blinking into the light beyond. Rising from the waters, we reach for the one that gave us life. It is the instinct of the newborn to clutch their Bearer for we cannot navigate life beyond the waters without Him. If we wait in his arms, we will breathe with his breath, our hearts will beat with his.


[1] John 3:1-21


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