At Baptism, St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, Sewanee, April 19, 2023

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Easter is a time for new beginnings. During this season, nature itself conspires with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to lay out before us the theme of new life. We see it in the signs of spring, as creation comes alive in new and fresh ways. It also seems like the academic calendar cooperates too, as old school business wraps up and we head toward the summer. New possibilities beckon, as we engage in one of the primary transitions of the academic year: graduation, that is, for some. The conclusion of the school year is not so much an end as a new beginning, with all the promise and hope that goes with it.

St. Paul in our reading today talks about “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), reflecting on the reality of what it means to be a Christian. It begins for us with a new identity, a sharing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, as Paul talks about in the Letter to the Romans (Rom. 6). We leave off an old way of life and enter a new life, a new way of being. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), a new identity, a new person.

As we heard in our Gospel reading, in baptism we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus himself. “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11). At his baptism, Jesus himself was at a transitional point as he began his ministry of teaching and healing. It was a new departure point in his vocation; a new chapter in his life. In baptism, we identify with him; we join his crew and take the path with him. Baptism draws us closer to him.

Fundamentally, in baptism, Christians share in the life of Jesus Christ, who has risen from the dead. That’s what new creation is. Through his death he has destroyed the power of death, which means new life for us. The same God who was able to make the world out of nothing is able to make it anew by raising Jesus from the dead. He can also make us new. The miracle of creation is echoed by the miracle of recreation in Christ, who overcomes the dominion of death and establishes the kingdom of God.

We take on this new life-giving identity through baptism. In this sacrament, we pray that we will be reborn by the Holy Spirit. In terms of identity, baptism includes the giving of a name, one of the main markers of who we are. As we say the Creed, it also includes an affirmation of faith and belief, the significant commitments that give meaning to life.

There are also the vows of baptism: solemn promises to lead a Christian life: a life of worship and praise; resistance to evil; proclamation of good news; service and love of all; respect for the dignity of all and pursuit of justice and peace. These promises define a life and give an identity. Baptism allows us to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), as Paul says again in Romans.

This new identity is not one we make up for ourselves. God has set the program, and Jesus has defined it. It’s also not the sort of life that we are capable of living on our own. We need community, the presence of other people, the fellowship of the Church. Most crucially, we need the grace of God, his power and presence in our lives, in order to follow through. If you are engaged in resisting evil, you need all the help you can get. None of us is up to that struggle on our own. We need power that comes from beyond ourselves in order to measure up.            

Baptism is serious business. Each of us needs encouragement in living this life. That’s why we are grateful today for the example of our baptismal candidate. This is a significant moment for you but also for all of us. Each of us has a chance today to renew our own commitment. Easter is a time for new beginnings; for new life; for a fresh outpouring of God’s power and presence in our lives.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee