Dear Grace Community,
Sunday, January 10, was Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Each year we read the story of Jesus’ baptism and remember our own baptisms. In 2015 we baptized five people in our congregation.
What was unique was that none were infant baptisms. Three of the baptized were teenagers, and two were adults who had been active in church for their entire lives but never baptized. Each baptism was a beautiful celebration of God’s claim on their lives and a reminder of God’s claim on each of our lives.
A phrase that comes up in our church is ‘baptismal promises.’ You’re most likely to hear it when we talk about why we teach children’s Sunday School or why we support our youth group. We do these things for many reasons, including that when those children and youth were baptized we promised to help them grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. These promises require action, and it’s easiest to think about it in regards to children and youth, but these promises extend into adulthood and go all the way to the grave.
It’s rare for one person to be born into a church, live a long life, and die in that church. At 97 years old, Bob McCune is one of the few people to be in this situation in our community. He was born into this church, married here, served in countless ways here, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you that when the day comes, his funeral will be here.
I say this to emphasize that Bob is the exception and we have to think more broadly about the promises we make at baptism. We may not be the community to raise a child if her or his parents move to another city, but we trust that another church will carry out those promises for us. In the same way, anytime we welcome a baptized member into our congregation we take on the promises made by another church.
Adults are more self-sufficient than babies, but the promises are as important for adults as they children. In fact, it’s an adult who is likely to know the deep hurts of the world, to experience job loss, divorce, death of loved ones, and other pain. It is our responsibility to let everyone in our congregation know that no matter what, they belong to God. That’s what baptism tells us. No matter what, we belong to God.
These promises to affirm our sister and brothers’ identity in God carry all the way to the grave. We promise to share this good news with the one baptized from the moment of baptism to death. This is why I believe that attending funerals is an extension of baptismal promises. It doesn’t matter if you know the person who died. If they are in our church, we are the church to fulfill the promises made years ago, and we do this by walking with them and their family all the way to the grave.
Each baptism is a glorious celebration, but it is so much more. It is a reminder of God’s claim on our lives and a reminder of the promises to share the good news with others.