(First published February 24, 2011. I got to participate again the other night.)
I don’t know whether or not you watch football on television. If you don’t, sometime you need to watch the very end of a football game. As the last few seconds disappear from the clock, watch the winning coach very closely. You may see a couple of guys carrying a big round plastic cooler full of water or Gatorade. They’ll sneak up behind the coach and dump it over his head. Doesn’t matter how cold it is or how dignified he is, he gets wet.
The bigger the game, the later in the season, the more likely you are to see this.
I realized that this is the exact opposite of baptism.
- In football, the players get the coach wet. Often, it is significant players.
- In baptism, the coaches and senior members of the team get the newbie wet.
- In football, the drenching comes after significant accomplishment.
- In baptism, the drenching comes after no individual accomplishment.
- In football, the washing ends the game.
- In baptism, the washing comes near the beginning.
I know. You are thinking, “Jon, wouldn’t an initiation ceremony have been a better metaphor?”
I’m not sure. Most initiation ceremonies involve great pain, great humiliation. They require periods of reflection and training. They often leave scars. Some, honestly, require counseling or surgery to repair.
What I like about the Gatorade bath is that it is a sign of affection and respect and delight. That is what I see when I look at the stories of baptism in the book of Acts. God gives a simple sign for people to use to demonstrate their internal decision to follow him.
I won’t say the result is always painless. People have been killed because they were baptized. But the sign itself doesn’t hurt.
However, somehow I cry every time I’m involved.