Wondering Wednesdays – fresh perspectives on baptism

Freely cross

My own baptism stories are complex and as I got ordained I had to think through what I thought about baptism having various perspectives taught to me in my journey around denominations from childhood to adulthood! Over this last week I have been reading for my thesis and in that have come across a new way of seeing it that connects to my studies on shame.

I came across an article that focused on the Syriac tradition and which talked about a robe of glory. The roots of this concept are explained thus:
In the Hebrew text of Genesis 3 there is of course no mention of any ‘robe of glory’ worn by Adam and Eve prior to the Fall, but in an early exegetical tradition, to which later Jewish midrashim and Syriac
Christian writers were heirs, the verb in Genesis 3:21 was taken as a pluperfect, ‘God had . . . clothed them’, thus referring, not to the clothing of Adam and Eve after the Fall (as it appears in all modern
translations), but to their original clothing, prior to the Fall.Furthermore, this clothing was understood as being not of ‘skin'(Hebrew ‘or) but of light (‘or), or of glory (a translation reflected in part
of the Targum tradition). It may be that this tradition was already familiar to the Syriac translator of psalm 8, for in verse 6, where the Hebrew (together with Septuagint, Targum and Vulgate) has ‘You made
him a little less than the angels, in honour and glory did you crown him’, the Syriac has altered this to ‘ . . . in honour and glory did you clothe him’ (Brock 1999:248).

The part of the article which particularly resonated with my studies was this:
At the end of the Church of the East’s baptismal service there is a prayer which was once also found in the Syriac Melkite rite:
The new children that You have produced from a spiritual womb in Your holy font give You worship. Perfect Your gift with Your servants, keep back from them all that is shameful, so that they may preserve in
purity the robe of glory with which You have clothed them in Your compassion (Brock 1999:254).

The way this prayer evokes the compassionate way that God clothed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and the concept of the font as a holy womb offer me new metaphors with which I can see my baptism in a new way and next time I get to baptize a child I will have a fresh image of what the sacrament means.

Brock, S. (1999). The Robe of Glory: A Biblical Image in the Syriac tradition. The Way, 39(3), pp.247-259.


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