I was baptized when I was 12 years old at the Methodist church in which I grew up. It was a part of our yearly confirmation ceremony and was on the whole a very lovely day. The confirmands themselves helped lead the Palm Sunday service. When my pastor laid his water cupped hand upon my head, I felt the love of the whole church washing down over me. It was easy to take my vows of membership after that. Why wouldn’t I want to join this group of people who had cradled me since I was a small child?
The first time I witnessed a baptism outside my tradition I was in college. I had gone to church with my Baptist boyfriend. When I saw the white clad candidate be plunged under water, I gasped out loud. Suddenly the verses about dying and being risen with Christ came to life in frightening fashion before my eyes. That day I learned becoming a new creation is as equally terrifying as it is wonderful.
My own children were baptized by pouring. We carried them forward together though they looked and reacted as different as different can be. My son was six months old, dressed in a handmade embroidered baptismal gown as white as his skin. He wailed as the pastor tipped him down and poured the chilly water over his head. He would much have preferred to continue nursing and cuddling in peace and quiet than be called by name and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We dried him off and I quieted him by snuggling him warm to my chest. My daughter on the other hand took it all in joyfully. She who was dressed in her glittering Chinese gown, all gold-covered red. She accepted the water and her new name, the one that made her a part of our family as well of the family of God that day. Then she waved her one-year-old hand at all the smiling faces when her Daddy walked her up and down the aisles, jingling her bracelet of bells in celebration coming and going. In the crying and in the laughing my husband and I were nothing but well-pleased to have our children be named and welcomed not only into our lives, but into our churches lives as well.
The first Episcopalian baptism I witnessed was actually that of a family of girls. Four of them all together in a row renounced evil and clung to Jesus that day. After the water was dried from their smiling faces, they were anointed with oil, sealed by God’s Spirit as God’s own daughters forever. Then each child was given a candle of light from the light of Christ to symbolize the light they were now called to share with the world. Except in their child-like excitement, the flame grew more than expected. One of the sisters leaned her candle too close to another. The child’s hair went from natural auburn red to burning with red and orange flames. Parishioners from the front rows jumped up to tamp out the girl’s flaming hair. I have heard it reported that the little girl’s memory from that day is that the Holy Spirit came down upon her with flames of fire and then the church came up and laid hands upon her as the Spirit fell down. And in many ways, that is exactly what happened.
As we celebrated Baptism of the Lord Sunday today, so many images came flooding through my mind:
images of welcome and adoption,
images of naming and being known,
images of being loved and delighted in even in the deep knowing,
images of being stripped of all that is not Christ and being filled with all that is light and love,
and being set on fire and called to go forth to bear that light and love with the world.
Do you have a favorite baptism story you would like to share? Or an image of what baptism means to you?
As always, feel free to share these stories with others.