Monday, January 12, 2009

Remembrance of Baptism

I led my first remembrance of baptism this Sunday as part of Baptism of Christ Sunday. I've meant to lead this every year that I've been here, but I've usually been on vacation the week of Baptism of Christ, which is chiefly why it's never happened.

Strangely, remembrance of baptism liturgies seem hard to come by. My shelf of worship materials (including the UCC Book of Worship and Chalice Worship) is devoid of such a service, and the internet wasn't any help, either. I ended up re-tooling the UCC baptism service, inserting language about remembrance and re-affirmation, including the re-affirmation of baptismal vows. I flew totally blind through writing the whole thing, but re-affirming vows seems appropriate in this context.

The service itself was scant in attendance thanks to the ridiculous amount of snow that northeast Ohio received this weekend. I actually thought that there was a good chance we wouldn't have worship at all and I'd go another year without being able to lead this special element. As it turned out, the weather held off, but it was still enough to keep many people away. That was just as well, I thought, for my first time.

Still, it turned out to be a very meaningful experience for people. "We've never done that." I love that phrase, especially when people mean it in a good way.

I stood behind the small table set up for the occasion, watching as the small bowls of water were passed among my faithful remnant. I watched the silent solemnity of older folks, the smiling faces of children from whom communion is withheld eagerly touching their foreheads with drops of water, happy to participate. I listened to people afterwards as they were moved to tell their own stories of baptism as they passed through the line, the precise meaning of this ritual fulfilled.

Many people were too young at the time of their baptism to recall their own stories. And yet I can vividly recall those of others I've witnessed. The campus ministry student immersed on Easter Sunday my first year of seminary. The young woman with terminal cancer whom I baptized last year calling it her "new birthday." Coffeeson trying to bat away the hand of a seminary friend as the water was sprinkled on his forehead. My 6-year-old self wiping off a kiss from my mom during my brother's baptism, to the delight of the watching congregation.

I've been recalling all of these since the slightly surprising feel of the cool water against my forehead.

A remembrance of baptism may even be more about that than it is about remembering our own. True, we take a moment to remember who and whose we are in baptism, but it may also be a chance to remember the baptisms of others: the quirky reactions of children, the context and conduct for adults, who else was there to observe, who officiated & how they did it, where it happened and where we've been since then.

That can be just as valuable, because it says just as much about who we are, and who we've become since.