Easter baptisms symbolize the resurrection of Jesus
It was more than a five-hour drive from southwest Indiana after her brother-in-law’s funeral that Donna Pittman decided it was time to be baptized.
“I’m getting older and I want to live my life for God and help others. … I can turn things around and trust God that everything will be okay,” said the Marysville resident, in her 60s. “I look forward to the future.”
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The day she will take the plunge? This weekend is Easter Sunday.
Baptisms, which involve sprinkling water on a person’s forehead or completely immersing body water, symbolize purification, submersion in the Holy Spirit, and entrance into the church.
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Holding them on Easter, the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, is a historic tradition that is once again becoming relevant and popular, according to Jeff Jaynes, professor of church history at Methodist Theological School of Ohio in Ohio. Delaware.
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“It’s the time of the resurrection, that sign of new life that the resurrection represents,” he said. “Some of the early traditions had people going completely into the water, being baptized by immersion, and coming out of the water, and so the symbolism of the resurrection was really powerful in that regard.”
For the Christian faith, no other week is as important as Easter week, Jaynes said.
Getting baptized during the holidays can help people come closer and more involved in the church community, said Francis X. Clooney, Parkman Professor of Theology at Harvard University.
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Easter is a symbolic time of renewal and welcoming new members, he said. In some churches, those already baptized can also renew their baptismal vows and recommit to the church, Clooney said.
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In the early church, it was customary for people to be received into the church as new members at Easter Vigil on Easter Eve, Clooney said. This would mean that the 40 days of Lent would be when people would prepare to enter the church.
Anecdotally, Clooney has heard that churches plan to baptize more people at Easter than they have in recent years, an increase he attributes to the fact that society is in a “time of great mutation” and that people may be looking for a religious community.
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“I think a lot of people are asking existential questions about their place,” Clooney said.
And, with baptism and church membership, “there is a feeling that out of the waters comes new life.”
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Pittman attends The Church Next Door, a nondenominational Christian church on the Far West Side of Columbus. The church has decided to hold baptisms – both for people who have taken courses to prepare and for anyone who feels a desire to accept Jesus – on Easter Sunday due to the increased attendance that day, said the Rev. Doug McCoy, Small Groups pastor.
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McCoy expects more than 1,000 attendees this Easter, while close to 500 are typical on the average Sunday.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on resurrection,” McCoy said. “It really is our big celebration, and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead on that day and we believe that baptism symbolizes that resurrection. You are resurrected into a new style of life.”
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Pittman agreed and said she thought her baptism would be a new beginning for her. She likes the idea of being baptized at Easter because she says the resurrection is “God’s” reason for being.
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When her brother-in-law died in March, Pittman said she began to feel like she needed to be baptized. Her children, grandchildren, and sister went through the ritual, and she saw that God was the only thing helping her sister through her husband’s death.
Pittman knows what it is: God brought him through dark times too. During the pandemic, she felt isolated and the church helped her overcome her feelings of depression and the challenge of not spending the holidays with her children.
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As soon as she walked into The Church Next Door, after hearing sermons online during the pandemic, she felt right at home, she said.
“As soon as I walk through those doors, it’s like I’m so glad I made the decision to push myself to church that day instead of staying home,” Pittman said. “It’s just an emotion you feel.”
The church’s Easter baptisms will be held in an outdoor pool, and everyone is welcome to come and be baptized if they see fit, McCoy said.
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While it takes a lot of preparation — including creating pop-up changing rooms and having supplies such as hairbrushes, towels and a change of clothes — it’s important for the church, he says.
“There are excuses and there are reasons why people haven’t been baptized yet,” McCoy said. “We’re just going to try to eliminate those excuses.”