I baptized the recently born son of parishioners today and, because they were game for it, the baptism was performed by stripping the little guy down, sitting him in the font (filled with warm water), and pouring a generous amount of water over him. He was then wrapped up in a towel while I anointed him with chrism, and then wrestled into his white garment while the assembly sang a song.
The whole thing was terribly undignified.
It was undignified because there is nothing dignified about having dirt scrubbed off you.
It was undignified because these is nothing dignified about dying.
It was undignified because there is nothing dignified about being born.
But once this new Christian was clothed in his resplendent white garment, I was forcibly struck, in a way I had never been before, by the words of the rite:
See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.
The impossibility of keeping our dignity when undergoing the rite of dying and rising with Christ makes the dignity bestowed on us in the new creation all the more vivid, as well as the seriousness with which we should guard that dignity.
In light of recent national discussions of race and history, Christians should remember that in our baptism we have lost our dignity as the world counts dignity. We have been stripped of our worldly status, whether of race or wealth or social position, and given a new status, a new dignity, as God’s adopted children. But the task of preserving that new dignity as brothers and sisters of Christ remains. It is all too tempting to retrieve the worldly status that has been left behind in the waters of baptism, to claim the privilege that the world has bestowed on us, and so lose the privilege that is ours as God’s adopted children. It is by refusing any dignity except that which is ours as a child of God that we will bring that dignity unstained before the just and terrible throne of God.