Mystic Sweet Communion

Something Happens

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Something happened at church this morning. I baptized an adorable red-headed toddler, a bright little boy who softly said "Wa" as we poured the water into the font.

I grew up Baptist, of the Southern variety, so I had the experience of being laid back in the water and covered with it. When you’ve been immersed, you know something has happened to you. My children were all baptized with a handful of water on the head, such a different-seeming action, and I believe I focused on myself on those days, thinking about what I was promising to do for them and with them. I remember the vows, but not so much the sacrament itself.

Three different tall, white men, all of them influential in my path to ministry, baptized my three children. Each one held a little baby of mine and spoke the words I spoke this morning, laying a large hand on a tiny head. The first was baptized in a gathering of family, and the younger two were baptized in the church that was our home for fifteen years, in the midst of Sunday worship.

In the midst of this Sunday, I held a little fellow whose father grew up in the church, whose great-grandmother still worships regularly. After church a Deacon expressed some sadness that these grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the church come for baptism but may never be seen among us again. I spoke some reassuring words about standing in for the Church Universal, and reminded him that children come to us who have been baptized elsewhere. We are all one community of faith, I started to say.

And then I realized what I really believed, an idea about what we are doing when we baptize that seems obvious now that I begin to write it but really had not been so clear to me before.

We don’t know, I said, exactly what the impact of this moment is on the little person I held this morning.  We don’t know exactly what has been imprinted on him, what memory will stay with him or how it may form the person he becomes.

We need to remember that when we baptize, something happens. When we say baptism is a sign of God’s grace, we don’t just mean a symbol or a reenactment or a memorial. In that moment , a mystery unfolds.

Little Lucas came into my arms willingly and settled comfortably against me, looking solemnly into my eyes as I laid a handful of water on his bright red hair and spoke the words, "I baptize you in the the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Mother of us all." Just as I finished and before I took away my hand, his expression suddenly changed, and a smile popped onto his face!

I may never how things turn out for my little friend, whether he will go to Sunday School and learn the stories of Jesus, or be one of the many unchurched grandchildren of the faith. But I know that something happened this morning. Body and Spirit connected in an instant as sharp and beautiful as a cry at birth.

I walked with him down the aisle, singing to him with the congregation, amazed that this is my work, blessed to be doing it, happy to know that something happened at church this morning.

9 thoughts on “Something Happens”

  1. Beautiful. And yes, if this is a sacrament, and not just–as a friend of mine once said–a “wet baby dedication” (in which case it is all about me, and what I am going to do for my child), then we trust that God the Holy Spirit is present in a vivid way, and doing something eternal even if we cannot perceive what it is.

  2. lovely.
    and i was just recalling yesterday the wonder of the fact that a boy who was bored on sundays found his way to our church on his own and then the delight when we realized he’d been baptized in our sanctuary 11 years before.
    and then the first baptism he witnessed he was struck by the act of anointing and said later that day “do you think that cross is still on my forehead?”
    something definitely happened in the church you serve today. and yes, it is so wonderful to be a part of it.

  3. Simply lovely.
    I grew up Baptist, of the Southern variety, too. Being laid down into those waters was really powerful. But so is what you did on Sunday. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Thanks for these beautiful words on baptism.
    They resonate for me because the last act of my about-to-ditch-God-and-the-church parents was to baptize me; by the time my brother came along less than two years later they were braced for the family disapproval and skipped it.
    I’m sure God would have reached out to me all through childhood in a completely a-religious household just the same (as a good barely Gen-Xer, my adolescent rebellion was to *go* to church). But I treasure that special gift of the Holy Spirit given to a tiny baby at Transfiguration church, as was so thrilled to see the old marble font still there when I went back for a family funeral several years ago.
    And you know I’m thrilled you use the Riverside formula :-).

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