Baptism – an Evangelical Sacrament Part 3

The human nature of Jesus is the sacramental reality of revelation on the ground of the hypostatic union between the divine and human in the one person. There is attestation, or witness of God to humanity and humanity to God in this primary event which is determinative of all secondary occurrences of the Christ event. So both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be regarded, as they are in the New Testament, as two aspects of the one event. There is, therefore, properly speaking, only one sacrament, of which Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are correlated expressions. So the original presentation of God to humanity and humanity to God becomes a re-presentation in the sacramental life of the Church. In this sense, and only in this sense, does the sacrament give to the Church a communion in the mystery of Christ; the sacrament being the true sign of this mystery. And only here can we speak of the ‘’evangelical’ nature of baptism.

The very withdrawal of Jesus from visible and direct relation to the world casts the Church into an eschatological relation with Christ as the Head of the Church. The Church lives between the Cross and the parousia and thus the original sacramental relation of the creature to the Creator in the hypostatic union (incarnation) is now re-presented through the enactment of the life of the Church itself. But in this re-presentation the full presence of the parousia is screened, permitting the Church to have a genuine history in relation to the world. Perhaps we can even speak of baptism taking place on the morning of the seventh day, the eternal Sabbath, rather than on the evening of the sixth day.

So in God’s revealing to and through the Church in Jesus Christ, God also is concealed in order to be present, not merely as another ‘presence alongside the existence of others, but in and through their existence. But precisely in that place where the Church discovers the eschatological nature of the sacrament She discovers Christ who is in himself the eschatos – the One who is the ‘end of the age, the final Word of God to humanity, who has already come, is present, and yet to come. In Christ, the eschaton broke into the present and yet the final Word of judgement and present redemptive action of the Word are ‘held apart to leave room for repentance and faith. The sacrament functions to preserve this unity between Word and power while maintaining the eschatological tension. So with the sacrament is associated a ‘presence in absence, whilst pointing to their own disappearance as interim events sustaining the life of the Church between Pentecost and resurrection.

It is only against this general background that we can now come to consider the specific of Baptism as an ‘evangelical sacrament event within covenant and Heilsgeschichte. In particular, over the next three posts in this area, I will focus on three facets: (i) the baptism of Jesus as the basis for Christian baptism, (ii) Christ as the objective reality of baptism, and (iii) baptism as obedience and hope.

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