It is fitting that baptism is the first of the sacraments, for its signs and gestures embody every aspect of the Christian faith and perhaps even of human experience. In this ritual, God's call is unceasingly reiterated in the lives of those who choose to respond. In it, those individuals, thirsty for freedom and weary of affliction, pass through the waters in an exodus that brings them to new life. These waters flow with rich silt of grace, for in them are flood and regeneration, promise and demand, death and rebirth. In them, bodies are washed, and dressed souls illuminated, wounds anointed, creeds recited, initiates sustained. In them, the old Adam becomes the new.

In creating the Christian, baptism both incarnates the faith and recapitulates the paschal mystery in the elect. Baptism is the original moment of redemption for those who enter its waters. The elect take on themselves the cross, perish and emerge from the font into the great, good plenty of the Risen Christ. This ritual is no fiction. Nor is it pantomime. It is real death, real birth. In it, the initiates rise from the dead and enter into the radiance of light. In it are the cross and the empty tomb. No wonder that the new-born of the sacrament are anointed with the potent medicine of chrism and swaddled in a white garment. No wonder that we give a party for our families and friends when we baptize our children, and that we joyously applaud adults when they are baptized.

As a sacrament, baptism usually is thought of as a discrete moment, say an Easter Vigil, when adults enter the church. But the word used when families gather on a Sunday afternoon to have a baby baptized--christening--suggests something else about the sacrament. Though a one-time event, baptism is a lifetime project. The rite begins this sacrament, which extends into every moment of life as the incarnation and the paschal mystery deepen and broaden in the lives of the baptized.

The sacrament is rich indeed. Each symbol and gesture exfoliates, as if to account for the lavish plentitude into which the initiates enter. Water signifies thirst, flood, death, font, cleansing, refreshment, fertility and rebirth. Naming connects us with our best selves, the glorified Christ, and the people of God. Anointing seals and consecrates, recuperating human life from sin, identifying the baptized as children of a king and as athletes in the contest for salvation. Its aroma signals the sweetness of Christ and of the gospel. The white garment reminds us of the cross, the gospel, the church and the communion of saints, which we take on in the sacrament. The lighted candle shines with the splendor of the Risen Christ and represents the brilliance of the baptized children of light. Its light illuminates the baptized and fires them with zeal. Its light reminds us of the burning bush and divine love, which burn but do not consume. The words and actions of baptism overlay all these meanings to lead the initiates to the almost unspeakable glory of Easter.

Like the sacrament, this Sourcebook is a palimpsest, a flood of texts overlapping texts, gathered not only for the mystagogia of neophytes, but also for the illumination of all the baptized. The Baptism Sourcebook clusters pieces of scripture, patristic writings, literature, hymns and art around the images of the sacrament. In doing so, it follows the order of the rite and tries to suggest the enormous richness of the symbols and gestures of christening. These texts remind us that in this sacrament, people drown, cry, are healed, and rejoice; that in it they flame like moths in wax candles and swim like fishes in the abundant waters of grace; and that in it they are made like Christ and become God's children. The book celebrates the joyous presence of God in baptism, but it also acknowledges that the sacrament requires a turning outward to share the light of Christ, newly risen in the baptized, in unflagging service to and unconditional love for the whole cosmos. - J. Robert Baker (from the Introduction)

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