Symbolism and imagery matter! They can make things vivid and real to us; and that’s true of water baptism.
I think if I were pastoring a church today, I’d do water baptism services like this…
I’d encourage them to wear old, worn out clothes to the place where they were going to be baptized in water as a testimony to the fact that they were abandoning their old way of life. The more old, tattered, worn out the clothes were, the better. Those would be the clothes they would be baptized in.
Then after they were baptized (buried, so to speak, in the waters of baptism – symbolizing the fact that they were abandoning their old way of life, dying to sin and self-pursuit) I’d have them change into new, fresh, “Sunday, go-to-meeting, best” clothes, celebrating the new life they had been given through faith in Christ.
All of that came to mind as I read the following passage this morning in the Bible (a passage that I’m convinced Apostle Paul wrote with water baptism as the imagery behind it)…
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator… Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (from Colossians 3:1–17 ESV)
You see, baptism really is a burial service! When we do it in faith and commitment we fully identify with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. We bring our old, tattered lives of sin and we die to them through the one who died for our sins on the cross. That old life is buried, so to speak, in the waters of baptism. Then we are raised from the waters of baptism, identifying with the resurrection of Jesus, to live a new life… That’s where we celebrate our new life in Christ by putting on our “Sunday go-to-meeting best!”
As I say, imagery and symbolism matters! And may there be, behind every water baptism, a spiritual reality!