Are We There Yet?

Exodus 13: 17- 22

 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.



As a priest of the Mar Thoma Church, Northeast of India was my first assignment. I was really excited and was also anxious as I had no clue how to get there or what to do. Guwahati is the destination became clear. Now I found out that there were no direct trains from Pune to Guwahati. So on 30st July 2011 along with my anxious parents, I set out first to Kolkata. The journey was for 32 hours. Now I felt the tough part was over as from Kolkata to Guwahati the journey was just 19 hours. On 1st August we again left for the station. The previous day there was a train derailment which meant the train had to reroute so instead of the route from West Bengal to Assam, the train had to go through Bihar and Orissa to Enter Assam. The train to begin with was 7 hours late. Instead of reaching on 2nd August at 6 am we were still very far from destination. And I tried sleeping and when I got up I kept asking “Are we there yet?” And the answer was obviously no. And the journey dragged on and on. We reached Guwahati on 3rd August at 9 am. A 19 hours journey took 47 hours. A 19 hours train was 28 hours late? Wow. And the day we reached we had rain with ferocity that I have never witnessed in my life. And the electricity took leave for another 22 hours. The nightmare seemed to be never ending.


We all have stories of awful journeys and frustrating experiences. So the people of Israel who were Hebrew slaves, all excited about being free were ready for a shock. God who was to lead them, instead of hurrying up through Philistine, decides to take a roundabout through the desert toward the Red Sea. And the Bible tells us they were there for next 40 years. Why? What good did it do?  In one night God took Israel out of Egypt; but it would take the next 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel. Honestly a journey through the desert is not done out of choice. It is something we would love to avoid. I am sure the Israelites would have jumped to the option of skipping it. But to begin with the initiative to free the Israelites was not an internal decision.  And most likely in the rule of Pharaoh they did not realize that they were slaves. It was God who took the initiative through Moses to liberate them. So God was interested in reaching the Promised Land. But more importantly he was interested in the people the slaves would become. It was a journey ‘from being slaves’ to becoming ‘People of God’. But we are sure they too kept asking Moses “Are we there yet?” So my dear friends if you feel awfully frustrated and completely lost, you have every right to feel so. I have gone through times when I felt God does not answer my prayers. I have had times where I had no sense of direction or reason for going ahead. You may too have a frustrating job or a dead end task. There were dreams that you had set out to fulfil but now all looks like a concentric circle of repetitive failures. The question that you will be asking is “Will you ever get out of this desert?” Will you ever see the sunshine. The Bible says yes. Where exactly does it say so?


 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” (Exodus 13: 19). Why did Moses have to carry these old bones of Joseph? What significance did it have? Well we are well versed with the story of Joseph. A dreamer who set out with hopes was one day sold into slavery by his own brothers. When things looked good in the house of Potiphar, he was sent to Jail for being righteous. The dream he saw won freedom for the cupbearer who after the release forgot Joseph. There were series of setbacks after setbacks that Joseph endured. But in the end he survived to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. The message of “Joseph’s bones” was simple. It communicated to the Israelites through the witness of Joseph that “You will definitely get through this”


Let me leave you with a parable about a man thought of quitting and went to argue with God.


“I quit my job, my relationship, my spirituality… I wanted to quit my life.

I went to the woods to have one last talk with God

“God”, I asked,

“Can you give me one good reason not to quit?”.

His answer surprised me…

“Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?

“Yes”, I replied.

“When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them.

I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth.

Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo. In the second year the Fern grew more vibrant and plentiful.

And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo. He said.

“In year three there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit.

In year four, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not quit.” He said.

“Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth. Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant…But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.”

He asked me. “Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots”.

“I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you.”

“Don’t compare yourself to others.” He said. “The bamboo had a different Purpose than the fern.

Yet they both make the forest beautiful. ”Your time will come”, God said to me.

“You will rise high”.

“I left the forest and brought back this story.”


My dear friends, it is my witness that when I felt I had hit the rock bottom, God led me on. He will lead you too.

Exodus 13:  22 says – “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” This symbolizes the presence and guidance of God that leads us forward. Even in the darkest night and when we feel abandoned and lost, the Scripture assures us that God is in control and he is leading us on. He is not in a hurry to reach the destination. He is interested about the person you turn out to be. So in times of uncertainty and frustration let us pray the prayer of the Catholic Monk Thomas Merton who prayed like this.


“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot

know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am

following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to

please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope

that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead

me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with

me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”




Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church







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Baptism: Confusions and Doubts Regarding Infant Baptism



I Corinthians10:1-6

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.


Many of us live in doubt whether our Baptism is valid as we do not proclaim our faith. This gives us the impression that maybe our church practice is wrong. How can an infant affirm his or her faith? He or she is not aware of what he is getting into, so the baptism is a meaningless ritual is the common argument. This is a common rationale to persuade many believers in adult baptism as the first baptism is neither biblical nor true. Historically this argument comes to the fore, thanks to the 16th century radical group called ‘Anabaptists’ which means ones who had rebaptised. Their argument was that one has to affirm his faith before baptism. This strand of argument is adopted by many Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal Churches. I am not questioning their position. But I debate that their argument is not tenable. We need to analyse the given text and understand its symbols and significance. This section is called “ Warnings from Israel’s History”. According to Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, the Principal of Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Baptism is not a graduation of faith as is presupposed in the arguments of Believers’ (Adult) Baptism. He contends that Baptism is the initiation into the ‘Salvation History’ and Eucharist is the edification in the journey of Salvation History. He elucidates this with the support of the above text. Here we see Paul’s Hermeneutics at work which is allegorical. He symbolizes the cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness and the Reed sea that they walked through as a process of Baptism. They were being initiated and guided into the journey towards ‘The Promised Land’. Spiritual food here is alluded to be the manna that Yahweh fed his people with. The drinking from the rock that is Christologically alluded reminds of the incident of Moses striking the rock with the rod from which people in their Journey drank water from. The manna and the water symbolize the Eucharist which edifies us in our journey as being part of ‘The Salvation History’. Verse 5 strikes the ultimate warning that even though the Israelites were initiated into the journey towards ‘The Promised Land’, “God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” Though many started their journey very few made it to the promises land. Verse 6 explicitly states that this occurred as a warning for us that we may not fall into the trap of being assured of completing our journey. Baptism initiates us into the faith community where faith is not an individual or personal matter but is formed in the context of a community. During our first communion we own our Baptism and faith and are edified with the salvific memory of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Abraham Kuruvilla illustrates that being initiated in the education system at the nursery level is not a graduation but an initiation. One is not guaranteed to finish his education process. One needs to review and work at it. So let us be clear that Baptism and Eucharist are important landmarks in our faith journey, but it has to be regarded as Initiation and edification respectively.

Note- the above are reflections of our Principal, Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, and it is brought to flesh with my limited comprehension about the subject.

On the basis of the above thesis let us look into the biblical and theological basis of infant baptism.


Biblical And Theological Grounds For Infant Baptism-

The major confusion of the Mar Thoma Christians is directly related to the validity of Infant Baptism. The lack of clarity on this subject and the illusion that it is not biblically based has caused major concerns for the Mar Thomites who are succumbed to believe that this particular practice is not biblical. This is a challenge and an opportunity to clear certain misconceptions regarding this topic. We will first consider this historically. In the time of the Apostles we have direct evidence that 3 distinct families or households received Baptism; that is the household of Stephanas, Lydia and the Phillipian Jailor. The term household signifies infants and children included as well. Even in Acts 2: 38-39, it signifies clearly Child Baptism. Origen mentions that the “ Church has an order from the Apostles to give baptism to the infants.” At the Council of Cathage, A.D. 251, the question was asked that whether it was not necessary to postpone baptism of infants until the fourth day , when it was decided that “no person should be hindered from receiving baptism, especially infants and those newly born.” The fourth Century Archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, wrote on the subject of “ Infant Baptism in the time of the Apostles.” This also shows that infant Baptism was uniformly practiced by the Early Church. W.F. Flemington in The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism argues that baptism of infants is a thoroughly legitimate development of New Testament teaching, a practice in full accord with the mind of Christ. J. Jeremias , the New Testament scholar says that Colossians 2: 11,12 shows that Paul considered Baptism equivalent to Circumcision that opened the way for Christian parents to baptize their children. The Old Testament says that circumcision was practiced on the 8th Day, which admitted the child into the Jewish Church. Nowhere in the Bible are children treated outside the scope of blessing. As we have seen that Baptism is the seal of faith. Romans 4:2 says, ‘ And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith, which he had yet being uncircumcised.’ So there is a connection of circumcision to be ‘ seal of faith’ and baptism that is called a seal of faith which are tied to respective covenants. As in Gen 17: 11,12 that says “Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me. Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised…”. So this is a ‘seal of faith’ and ‘token of covenant’. Circumcision then like baptism now fulfilled a double purpose. It is the seal of the believer’s faith and also the sign of God’s covenant.

So who is included in this covenant? The answer is found in Acts 2: 39 “ the promise is unto you and your children.” Let me quote from Dr. Wall’s “ History of Infant Baptism”( vol 1., p. 3) as follows ‘It is evident that the custom before Jesus’ time was to baptize as well as circumcise any proselyte that came over to them from nations. This was based on their belief that rest all were impure and not worthy to enter into a Covenant without a washing or baptism from their uncleanness and this was called baptizing unto Moses. If any such proselyte , who came over to the Jewish religion, and was baptized into it, had any infant children then born to him, they also were baptized and circumcised. The child’s inability to declare his faith was never looked on as a bar against his reception into the covenant.”

Bernard Manning in his book, “Why Not Abandon the Church”, summarizes beautifully about baptism. He says “In Baptism the main thing is not what men do, but what God has done. It is a sign that Christ claims all men as his own and He has redeemed them to a new way of life. That is why we baptize children and infants. The water of baptism declares that they are entitled to God’s mercies to men in the passion of Christ. Your own baptism ought then to mean much to you. It ought to mean all the more because it happened before you knew anything about it. Christ redeemed you on the Calvary without any thought or action on your part. He did not wait for any sign or confirmation on your part. Similarly we baptize a child and declare to the world in a solemn manner what God does for us without our merit and even without our knowledge. In Baptism, more plainly perhaps than anywhere else, God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

We have to realize that the objection to infant Baptism needs to be rooted to the cult group called the Anabaptists who gave importance to the profession of faith as an imperative for Baptism. This logic is reductionist and places the onus of faith on an individual. No faith is individual but it is a formation of the community that fosters faith. Infant baptism sets apart a child and he becomes part of the Body of Christ to be formed by the faith practices of the community and the God Parent is the representative of the community to ensure that the child is formed in faith. The family is the nucleus of this faith formation. So the corporate formation of faith has been given emphasis in infant Baptism.


As we have surveyed the theological basis of baptism and the rationale for infant baptism, we the ministers in formation need to engage deeply with the liturgical practices of baptism. I personally feel we need to pay a lot of attention in teaching this to the youths, sevika sanghams and prayer meetings in our parish assignments. I have observed the lack of clarity on this topic has made many of our church members vulnerable. We personally need to learn more about it to be convinced about our baptism and to relive and reaffirm the faith that was symbolized at our day of baptism. May God guide us.


Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church