Kevin MadiganFebruary 23, 2009 - 10:28am0 comments
The ancient Christian church understood that for believers, resurrected life didn’t start after death; it had already begun. It was not something simply to be anticipated and looked forward to, but to be experienced now. And this belief was reflected chiefly in the church’s early baptismal rites, its celebration of the Eucharist, and its daily prayer—particularly its frequent repetition of the Our Father.
Taking a cue from Paul (Rom 6), the early Christian writers associated this “resurrected” experience with the reception of baptism. Indeed, in the early church it was nearly universally held that baptism was absolutely necessary for the Christian to participate in resurrected life. The chief scriptural anchor here was John 3:5, where Jesus admonishes Nicodemus: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Before they were baptized, candidates were understood to have been hopelessly trapped in an alliance with hell, locked into a covenant with the forces of evil and death. Only baptism could liberate them from their fearsome predicament. Today, many Christians are familiar with this understanding, communicated as it is through catechetical and religious-studies courses. But less well known or understood is the degree to which the early practices for inducting the baptized were rooted in the Judaism of the time.