We’re having a baptism this morning, our first in our new hybrid worship setting. I’ve been caught up in thinking about where we might position mics and cameras so that parents and godparents will be seen and heard as they make their promises. It’s only just now that I have begun to ponder the deeper meaning of what we’re doing.
This little baby is being claimed by Christ. The Incarnate God is declaring him part of his tribe, as the Holy Spirit finds her home in his soul. We, the church, are taking him in, giving him a household and a family of faith. Promising to be the folks who talk to him about God. And Love. We’ll talk to him about love, too.
I was baptized when I was six months old. My aunt Loralie was my godmother. The church was a small, Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation that worshiped in a clapboard building with a tall, sharp steeple. I mostly remember the iron banister at the edge of the steep steps down to the basement. When I was three, I would hang on to them while I climbed down to the basement door, to get to where we had Sunday School.
Only a few years after I started Sunday School, we moved to Alaska, then to Texas, and finally to Oklahoma. My family went to a variety of protestant churches, seldom very regularly. My godmother lived in Wisconsin, and we rarely saw one another. As I grew in mental ability and awareness, I turned away from the world view given me by my mother and Sunday School teachers interpreting the Bible. By the time I was in high school, I wasn’t going to church at all.
And yet – though there wasn’t a community or a school or a church in which I felt I truly belonged as a kid, I never lost the sense of belonging to God. This was a knowing deeper than my mental awareness, because with my head I would have insisted that I didn’t believe in God.
I suppose you could say it was a calling, since it never left me alone. It always bugged me, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched. It made me restless in that way that St. Augustine talks about – restless until I could find my rest in God. I was called by Christ to be Christ’s.
So, my favorite part of the baptism ceremony is when the priest marks the newly baptized person’s brow with the sign of the cross and says “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. I feel that indeleble sealing every time and celebrate it with joy.
When you renew your Baptismal Vows, I hope you remember this part of things. We each make promises to God: to study and pray, to resist evil and repent when we have failed, to proclaim God and Christ, to serve Christ in others, and to strive for justice and peace. But God makes a promise to us as well.
Next time, after you’ve renewed your vows with your congregation, take a few minutes alone later. Get yourself some olive oil and make the sign of the cross on your forehead. Repeat to yourself these words: “(Your name), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” That is God’s promise to each of us. We belong to God forever.