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Remembering My Baptism

6532433775_6210108096_z"Remember your baptism," the preacher invited the congregation this morning, on Epiphany Sunday, when Christians remember the baptism of Jesus.  "Remember your baptism, and whose you are."

In a denomination that baptizes mostly infants, one might wonder how it’s possible to remember your baptism.  Babies are too young to remember!  Of course, I can imaginatively construct the event of my baptism, the way an historical fiction writer might.  There stand my mom and dad, my mom’s brother–I think he was returned from the Pacific theater by then–and his mom and dad.  All these have passed on now, but I can imagine that they, weary from four years of a world war so recently ended, were rejoicing and hopeful as they welcomed me into the family of God.  I do not remember the pastor placing wet hands on my head, as he would later do for my sister.  I do not remember solemn words said over me.  But I do remember that years afterwards I was welcome there.  "Come, sing in the choir!" some kind lady would say as I visited.  Oh yes, I could sense years afterward that that church remembered.

Much is made of baptism being a rite of passage to mark a spiritual conversion.  "Believer’s baptism," theologians call it, to distinguish it from the other kind.  But to my way of thinking neither kind of baptism concerns principally what happens in the mind or soul of an individual, which after all cannot be known by anyone save the Creator.  No, it seems to me that baptism is more about what happens to the parents and congregation who envision a whole life’s passage for the newcomer, for whom they take nurturing responsibility, at least for the first leg.  Thus, baptism initiates not just the initiate, but the ones initiating too.  For baptism binds them in a relationship of caring which , if rightly understood, is just as deep and sincere as that of parents.

"Remember your baptism," the pastor bids us.  I sort of do, in the sense that I remember being loved dearly by groups of Christians in different cities who were not my blood kin, but who cared deeply about who I was becoming.  I did remember, and keep remembering whose I am.  In truth, it was not ultimately my parents’ example which I followed on the way, but the example of Sunday school teachers, and choir directors who taught me that "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red or yellow, black or white they are precious in his sight."  This early lesson ran deeper than my parents’ ken, and guided me more profoundly than they could have imagined that day when they welcomed me into the family of God.

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