Today we celebrate the baptism of Sally Beights-we could not baptize her on a better day in the lectionary. Today, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we read about life with God through Christ.
We read the image of dying with Christ in order to live with Christ-this is the central image of baptism. Baptism is just not a chance to get an adorable baby all dressed up in white to show her off. Baptism is not an empty ritual to make parents feel better about the fate of their children. Baptism is the central rite of Christianity.
In the early church, and in many churches today, Baptisms are done by fully immersing the person. Their heads are dunked fully under water three times, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This full immersion was meant to simulate drowning. This image of being held under the water, nearly drowning, makes the air you breathe when your head breaks through the water even more powerful.
This week, I had the pleasure of receiving a surprise email from one of my best friends in the world. We haven’t kept in touch much over the last decade, just an email here or there, but this week we’ve been emailing back and forth frantically, telling each other our stories. The latest part of her story goes something like this.
She has been living in New Orleans for a few years, and was there when the hurricane hit. She, her boyfriend, and a friend carpooled out the city, expecting to return in a few days. They did not. In the matter of a day’s time, her life was irrevocably changed. Her home was gone, car was gone, and most of her material possessions were gone. Friends were missing. Over the last two years the emotional toll grew heavy upon her shoulders and in her heart. In a sense, you could say she felt like she was drowning.
Last weekend she realized she was trying to deal with all of this pain and sorrow with her own energy. She realized she did not have the resources to do so. And so she prayed. She prayed for forgiveness and direction and guidance. And God answered her. She heard him say that he loved her and that he had everything she needed. And for the first time in a long time, she was able to breathe freely.
That is baptism. The baptism we perform today is an outward and visible sign of an experience that profoundly changes us. Today we are trusting that as we baptize Sally, she too, will experience the love, healing and guidance of God. We are committing ourselves to telling her about God and how much God loves her. She may internalize this from the time she is a small child. Or, she may not deeply experience God’s love until later in her life. But as we baptize her, we entrust her to a God who will always remain faithful to her, no matter where life brings her.
Each of us can trust that God loves us and will remain faithful to us, even if we are not faithful to God.
Thanks be to God.