Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent: Remember your baptism

Today my four year old son, Stephen, was baptised into the family of God. It was beautiful and marvelous, and he didn't try to dive into the baptismal font or anything. What a lovely coincidence that the Scripture readings from the Lutheran lectionary for today were about baptism, in particular I Peter 3.18-22 and Mark 1.9-15. When I spoke to Pastor Yost weeks ago about having Stephen baptised on this Sunday, neither of us looked ahead to the readings set for today to see how appropriate they are, so it was a surprise!

Stephen is older than your average infant being baptised. In fact, another child was baptised today along with him, a little baby girl. I wonder if years from now, Stephen will be able to recall hiding his face in the collar of the minster as he was presented to the congregation. I wonder if he'll remember trying to catch his handkerchief on fire with the lit candle we were given at the end. I wonder what moment will stand out to him in his memories when he thinks back to this day.

I remember my baptism. (I was raised a credobaptistic Baptist, and they don't let anyone get baptised until a profession of faith has been made.) I was around 9 or 10 years old. I was baptised by immersion in the Caribbean Sea. The church members gathered on the sandy beach and sang hymns as I waded out through the slightly choppy waves. The sand was softer on the shore but felt gritty between my toes in the water. The most vivid thing that I remember about my baptism is the fallen palm tree under the water nearby. It was dark and shadowy, probably had seaweed growing on it. I imagined that the fallen log was actually a crocodile waiting to eat me when I got dunked under the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

When I burst up out of the water, the crowd on the beach sang louder, and I could taste the salty seawater on my lips. I was filled with wonder and excitement (and joy that I didn't get eaten).

So now, whenever I pass by the baptismal font in my church, which is placed right in the middle of the aisle in the entrance to the sanctuary, I'm reminded of the salty water and the palm tree crocodile. Sometimes I'm tempted to dip my fingers in the water and, instead of tracing a cross on my forehead, stick those fingers in my mouth to see if the holy water is salty.

I'm so thankful to have such a tangible assurance of my salvation.

Martin Luther's Small Catechism on The Sacrament of Holy Baptism:

What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.

Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4)