This week in worship, I’ve decided that instead of explaining an aspect of my diaconal project in a speech form, I will locate it within a rite.
We have many options as we begin worship, and one of them is Thanksgiving for Baptism. We collectively give God thanks for baptism, for its saving nature, and for our being able to die daily to sin and rise daily to new life. We are baptized once, but we live into our baptism every day.
Our rite this Sunday will not only be one of thanksgiving, but also one of confession and forgiveness, one that acknowledges our failure to live into the promises of new life that come with baptism. However, one of those promises is forgiveness, and so we dip our fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross to remind ourselves: we are baptized, forgiven children of God!
All of our life in Christ symbolically flows from baptism – both gift and responsibility. We are gifted with new life and grace, and we are given the responsibility to pay that forward in love of neighbor.
What do we discover in baptism?
*Celebrating adoption by God. We hear language in our liturgy like “by these waters and your Word, you claim us as your own.” I’m adopted myself, and I remember my mother saying when they came to get me at the adoption agency, it didn’t matter to her at all that I was not her flesh and blood. It seems to me that God thinks this way too – but with the distinction that God is our creator, deeper than flesh and blood. As the psalmist writes, “you knew me in my mother’s womb.”
This has been made most clear to me in Hawai’i, where the concept of ‘ohana is strong. ‘Ohana is Hawaiian for ‘family’ but it stretches beyond blood relatives – it is the people you love and those who love you. ‘Ohana combined with living aloha is close to how I think of adoption by God. Living aloha is summed up well by the poster at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha on O’ahu, one of the best shave ice places in Hawai’i: “With an open heart and an open mind, I will unconditionally love every person who crosses my path in life as a fellow member of our one world ‘ohana.”
*Justification through Jesus. Through baptism we die to sin and rise again to new life. Some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever found describing this comes from Canada:
For you, little one, the Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation, and God made covenants with God’s people.
It was for you that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.
For you, Jesus Christ suffered death, crying out at the end, “It is finished!”
For you Christ triumphed over death, and rose in newness of life.
All of this was done for you, little one, though you do not know any of this yet.
But we will continue to tell you this good news until it becomes your own, because this good news is for you, and for us, and for all people.
And so the promise of Scripture is fulfilled: “We love because God first loved us.”
*New birth in the Spirit. The Spirit works to activate and grow faith in us. One of the promises God makes to us in Baptism is that the Holy Spirit – Jesus refers to the Spirit as an “advocate” – will be with us, enlivening our journey.
*Liberation from sin and death. I need to emphasize that this is in the eternal sense. We are simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously saint and sinner – and so we will mess up again! (And again, and again…..) But for freedom Christ has set us free. We are freed from punishment for those sins because of God’s promises in Christ.
Ray Makeever has a song entitled “Death Be First, But Never Last.” When we gather for a funeral, we acknowledge that death is real, but we preach resurrection. My late husband Michael died during the Easter season, and his funeral was held during the Easter season. What a powerful witness it was to all those at his funeral to hear, even in the face of death, that “we know that Christ is raised, and dies no more!”
In such worship together we discover that we have the ability to confront the reality of our own death AND the promise of the resurrection. The baptismal journey that brings us into this place instills in us the virtue of courage.
What skills do we develop in baptism and in our remembrance of and thanksgiving for baptism?
*Naming our own sin. Confession and Forgiveness, typically at the beginning of worship, is led from the baptismal font to remind us that we are washed and forgiven.
*Recognizing our participation in systemic sin. Our baptismal call to love and serve the neighbor helps us to develop eyes that see where our privilege or situation draw us into systemic sin. This is sin that is so entrenched in a society that only those who are oppressed by that sin notice it. If baptism makes us new in Christ, then it is certainly possible for new eyes to be a part of us as a new creation.
*Releasing that sin through prayer, penitence, and/or spiritual discipline. Many times we hear the words of forgiveness, and we know intellectually that we are forgiven, but it takes longer to feel it. Our baptismal assurance of forgiveness gives us space to work through prayer and other disciplines to fully release that sin and its impact on us.
*A vocation to a life of prayer and service. By having the font at the center of the worship space, on the same axis as the table and the cross, we are reminded constantly not only of our need for God’s love, but of the assurance in baptism of God’s abundant love and forgiveness AND of our being set free to love our neighbor.
A couple of weeks ago during the sending hymn, Pastor Laura and I were about to head outside to greet everyone. One of our young friends was sitting with us, and she reminded us to dip our fingers in the font and make the sign of the cross before we left. What an astute little theologian she is! It’s a great idea to do this as we leave, as a reminder that baptism frees us for that neighbor-love.
Whenever you “wash up” this week – remind yourself that you are called and loved by God.