On April 24, 387 A.D., Augustine of Hippo, whom even Protestants call a saint, was baptized on Easter eve by Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan, Italy. It must have been a dramatic moment. The baptismal font was a sunken octagonal pool twenty feet in diameter, built to look like a big tomb. Ambrose led the thirty-three-year-old Augustine down tow steps in toe the water and asked, “Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” Augustine said that he did.
“Do you believe in God the Father?” Ambrose asked. Augustine replied, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
Ambrose continued, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” Augustine answered, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son,” continuing with the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which was then a mere sixty-two years old but was already well established as an ideal summary of the Christian Faith for new believers.
Then Ambrose immersed Augustine in the water, and Augustine quite literally “Rose up” out of the tomb-like font, ready to participate in the Lord’s Supper for the first time and to live his world-changing Christian life.
In Augustine’s time, Easter was the single most important event of the year, far surpassing Christmas, which appeared comparatively late on the church calendar. Part of the reason for this was that Easter was about more than a historical commemoration of an event in Jesus’ life.
Easter worship not only recounted the resurrection story but also explored the world-changing personal and cosmic consequences of the resurrection. Early Christians celebrated Easter with a lot more than bonnets and bunnies, new clothes, and egg hunts. They celebrated by “drowning” and “resurrecting” groups of new Christians, who needed to die and rise in imitation of Christ.
The scriptural source for this baptismal practice is the mysterious but appealing pronouncement of the apostle Paul: “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4 NRSV; see also Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-4).
—John D. Witvliet, in WORSHIP SEEKING UNDERSTANDING: WINDOWS INTO CHRISTIAN PRACTICE, Chapter 14, “Celebrating the Christian Passover in Easter Worship.” (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 285. ISBN 0-8010-2623-7.
[This book is a collection of essays that explore the meaning and practice of Christian worship. The various chapters highlight the interdisciplinary aspect of worship studies—historical, biblical, theological, musical and pastoral. Not a quick read, but highly recommended.]
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Have a great week.
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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