An Awkwardly Good Baptism Remembrance

Yesterday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord in all of our worship services.  Although my main assignment on Sunday mornings is to preach at our contemporary service, I also float around to our other (traditional) worship services as a liturgist and occasional preacher.

Our second traditional style worship service serves communion every week, it's a different layout than most traditional services to accommodate the sacrament and it was something we had planned around for our liturgy of baptism remembrance.  Yes, I realize that our Book of Worship liturgies highly suggest that you serve Holy Communion following the remembrance, but ... well ... logistics.

So, we stuck faithfully to the service of baptism remembrance in the UMBOW, nothing fancy.  Our pastor went through the liturgy and poured the water.  I then walked the basin up the center aisle, stopping every few paces, calling on the people to remember their baptisms and be thankful.  Pretty standard stuff!  I then walked the basin back up and place it on the altar table to proceed with communion.  

That's when and awkward miracle happened.

I had the center station and we were going through the line at a good clip.  No nonsense whatsoever.

But then, a woman who I'd never met before stepped forward in line.  I'd already broken off a piece of bread for her when she looked at me and said, "Can I go up and touch the water?  I just want to touch the water."

I glanced back up the stairs to the basin and then back at her and said, "Go right ahead."

She quickly, boldly, walked up the steps and touched the water, and walked back down to get back in line for communion.

The choir member serving with me looked slightly mortified while this was going on and asked me what she was doing.  I just looked at her and shrugged, "She just wanted to touch the water."

Sometimes the Spirit calls on us to drop the formalities for a second.  I would never say that our traditional services are too traditional or rigid, but they are 'high church' to be sure - and done very, very well.  But sometimes, we just need to let people touch the water.  I was proud to be this woman's pastor yesterday, even though this easily could have crept into worship blooper territory.  It was a bold move to walk up those steps and touch that water in remembrance.

Things like that can happen when a person is in the Spirit.  I'm thankful to have been a part of that simple, awkward, moment.

Baptized by the Red Sea

When I asked my pastor for a couple of simple books to help me break down (or introduce me to) sacramental theology, the first thing she told me to purchase was the study guide to By Water and the Spirit, as written by Gayle Carlton Fenton.  It fleshes out the official UMC document on baptism, also called By Water and the Spirit, as adopted by the 1996 General Conference as a way to firmly establish, and reclaim, the Wesleyan way of baptism.

As I've pondered through this resource, I've found my mind blown over and over again.  In a blessed way.

First is to realize that there's no true way to completely understand the mysteries of the sacraments   We journey with the sacraments of baptism and communion, as they are points where the Spirit (whether we're open or not) will enter and begin a change.  Whereas there's an awful lot we can do to offer our thanks and praise up to God, Wesley viewed the sacrament as reflected in his Anglican roots "that a sacrament is 'an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."  So, God is at work in the sacraments.  And we join with God in them.

As the document and the book dive further into baptism's rich history in the Christian church, we find that it's truer roots are in our Jewish heritage, well before Christ was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Of the pictures of baptism (water as a change agent in the Word) in the Old Testament, the one that rocked my world the most has to be this:
Other biblical accounts associate water with other salvation themes present in baptism.  The Hebrew people were freed from their slavery in Egypt by God's action, which enabled them to escape through the sea (Exodus 14:19-31).  So, baptism is liberation from sin.  (page 19, By Water and the Spirit Study Guide)

On one side of the Red Sea the Hebrews are a nation of slaves.  On the other side the Hebrew nation is on their way to God's Promised Land.

On one side is their old way of life.  On the other side freedom in the Lord.

But, they have to get across first.  So what does God do?  He parts the sea, and the Hebrews run to the other side, chased by Pharoah's army - chased by their old life.

Grace was offered to the Israelites as they stepped out in faith to cross that body of water.  Can you imagine that?  The sea wasn't dried up - it surrounded them on either side as they ran.  No doubt they were afraid, but also no doubt that they pushed through with faith in the Lord.

The people of Israel needed a new start, God made that new start happen.  Crazy awesome.