Pentecost: Baptized With The Spirit

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day when we in the church remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, we celebrate that the Spirit of Christ—The Holy Spirit—is with us, bringing life and empowering us to participate in the Spirit's ministry of reconciliation. Throughout history, the day of Pentecost has been closely associated with baptism, and rightly so. Indeed, baptism anticipates and is anticipated by the event of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost and baptism are symbiotic. 

Despite Karl Barth's own infamous and somewhat perplexing rejection of infant baptism (and, I should say, I find it perplexing on the basis of Barth's own theology, since the primary actor in baptism, for Barth, is the Spirit and not the human), Barth provides some of the best theological rationale for baptism. According to Barth, it is the baptism with the Holy Spirit that makes our baptism with water possible and even "demands" it (CD IV.4, p.41). The Baptism of Christ—wherein the Holy Spirit declared Christ's belovedness before he had the chance to prove or disprove it—initiates and determines the baptism of every individual. In fact, all baptism is baptism in Christ, so therefore there is no baptism that is done on the basis of the capacities of its recipient (hence my perplexity at Barth's rejection of infant baptism). Baptism is an act of grace whereby God has declared, in Christ, the adoption of all human beings into the family of God—"this is my beloved!" The human "ability" to be baptized at all is grounded in the freedom of God and God's faithfulness to human beings. "A Christian.... is a [person] from whom it is not hidden that [their] own history took place along with the history of Jesus Christ" (CD IV.4, p. 13). 

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the baptism with the Spirit that makes baptism with water possible. Baptism with water is a human impossibility, on its own basis, but because of the Holy Spirit in us, declaring what we cannot declare on our own—namely, that we are God's beloved and members of the Body of Christ—we are "more than conquerers" (Romans 8:37). The Holy Spirit brings our dead bones to life (Ezekiel 37) and makes us new. In the Holy Spirit, our status before God is secure. We are forgiven and we are accepted, even when we doubt it and are confounded by it. 

Douglas John Hall writes, 

"What faith hopes for (and does not yet see) is a redemption that applies without qualification or hesitation on the part of the human will to the whole of the created order. Now, we continue to doubt our status as God's children and heirs. We feel ourselves still to be alone. But the Spirit 'helps us in our weakness' (Romans 8:26), interceding for us, causing our very sighs to express what our whole world cannot articulate" (Professing the Faith, p. 250).

Baptized with the Holy Spirit, we are who God says we are! The hope which we cannot see is proclaimed by the Spirit within us so that we might live "on Earth as it is in heaven." The waters of baptism witness to the Holy Spirit's presence in the created world and in this person in this place with these people. In the waters of baptism we see the reflection of a world made new, a world being created among us by the same Spirit that hovered over chaos in the beginning (Genesis 1:2), a world where all are welcome, all are forgiven, all are loved. 

So on this Pentecost Sunday, may you remember your baptism. May you peer into the waters and see who you really are. May you know that the Spirit is at work within you, even when you can do nothing. And may you step out of your open grave to live the life of the beloved.