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Remember Your Baptism

True to my Baptist heritage, I do indeed remember my baptism. At eleven years old, after weeks of study and preparation, I gave my “testimony” before the congregation. My pastor then immersed me in the baptistery in the back of Islington Baptist Church, over which hangs a picture of the Jordan River. I remember the splash as I was pulled under and then pulled back up. I remember the feel of the cold water and my wet robe. I remember my damp hair freezing in the cold January wind on the way home. Most recently, at my ordination, the abundant imagery of water, Pastor Joel’s aptly titled sermon reminded me again of my baptism, the beginning of my Christian life and call to ministry. When I charged those present to remember their baptism, I was remembering how, in that little Baptist church in a western Toronto suburb, I was, as my baptismal certificate states, “buried with Christ in baptism.”

When I came into the Presbyterian Church, and became an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament, baptism was…..a little different. Instead of the testimonies of faith and full immersions of my childhood, we mostly baptize infants, and mostly by sprinkling and pouring. Although it does happen that someone does personally remember their baptism, that is the exception rather than the rule. So, what in this context, does it mean to “remember your baptism and be thankful?”

The Book of Order states “the baptism of believers witnesses to the truth that God’s gift of grace calls for our grateful response. The baptism of young children witnesses to the truth that God claims people in love even before they are able to respond in faith. These two forms of witness are one and the same Sacrament.” Baptism of babies and believers are each unique in their witness and yet are one as the sign and means of God’s covenant with us.

In a related vein, I think that the baptism of young children and of believers also highlights the two aspects of remembering our baptism. No one baptizes themselves and no one is baptized alone. Every baptism, of infant or adult believer, is an act of the Church. In our tradition, it is authorized by Session and administered by a minister of Word and Sacrament. In every tradition, congregations act on behalf of the universal Church to administer baptism and to promise to nurture those who are baptized. Family and friends gather and celebrate baptisms together and even where there are no family or friends, the congregation gathers as the family and friends of the newly baptized one and celebrates with them. This is why, barring extreme circumstances, baptisms are always public events. The baptism of infants reminds us that baptism always embeds us in community. The remembrance of baptism is always a communal remembering. We remember our baptism together with our community, and when we cannot remember our particular baptisms, the community remembers on our behalf. This is most obvious for those baptized as infants, but is true for all who are baptized.

At the same time, every baptism eventually requires a personal response to God. At the baptism of young children, parents renounce evil and profess their faith in Christ on behalf of their children. Parents and congregation promise to raise the child to know and love God. The goal however, is that newly baptized children will respond to God’s call and claim, for themselves, the faith that has been claimed on their behalf. The baptism of believers, who visibly and immediately profess their own faith in Christ and respond to his claim on their lives, reminds us that God calls all of us to do that. No one else can respond to God’s call and God’s love on our behalf, we must all do so for ourselves. When we remember our baptism, we remember the response of faith and love to which our baptism calls us.

So, however we were baptized, as a baby or an adult believer (or anywhere in between), by immersion or sprinkling or any other way, we are called to remember our baptism. We are called to remember the call on our lives as a result of our baptism and the community that gathered and walked with us at our baptism. It is a remembering that we all do together because we remember on each other’s behalf when we cannot remember for ourselves, and when we can remember, we remind our whole community through our remembering. So, as we go into Lent, let us remember our baptism, and be thankful!

Love and blessings,

Pastor Julia


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