My friend was baptized this morning. She is not a child – she is of “riper” years, as the prayer book says, so this was an adult baptism, and the words spoken, the heartening vows, rang through the vast nave and were carried to the tabernacle on the altar.
With this sacrament she has been engrafted onto the organic Body of Christ, the Church, with water poured, the Holy Spirit descending.
Our baptismal font is in the back of the church near the entrance doors on the north side of the central aisle, and when the procession of acolytes and clergy, the torchbearers and crucifer, moved down from the chancel to the font, my husband and I, as sponsors, stood with Cathy before the huge marble shell that would hold the holy water. Our priest donned a white stole, and blessed the water in the large silver pitcher set out on a small table alongside.
The children and teachers came in from the Sunday School, the babies cuddled over shoulders and the older ones standing nearby, their eyes wide. The congregation turned in their pews as the procession moved past, until they faced us, following the Elizabethan service in our Book of Common Prayer. For the parish members were a vital part of this sacrament of water and spirit. We all prayed the prayers together and heard Cathy’s vows, her belief in the creeds, her belief in Jesus Christ, her desire to be washed clean of sin and be baptized in His Church.
The moment came, and Cathy stepped forward to the font. My husband and I stated her name. Our priest poured water from the silver pitcher over her forehead and into the font, saying, “I baptize thee In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” With these words and with this water, she was washed clean of all sin and joined to the Christ’s Body, the Church. She was given a flaming candle, passed from the priest to myself to my husband to Cathy. “Receive the light of Christ,” the priest said.
There are many beautiful moments and stunningly profound phrases spoken in this ancient rite, and I thought of all those before us and all those that would come after us, all those who had said and would say these words with family and friends and parish brothers and sisters, with water poured and spirit descending. But my favorite words are these, spoken by the priest:
We receive this person into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign her with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter she shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified…
So many believers today seem to be ashamed of the Cross.
On this First Sunday in Lent we enter the world of the Cross. During the week the Sign of the Cross was marked upon my forehead with Wednesday ashes. I walked Friday’s Stations of the Cross, following the fourteen colorful depictions of Christ’s way to Golgotha, recalling these historic moments when eternity intersected time and God acted among men. I prayed for myself, my family, my parish, my community, my nation, my world. I considered my Lenten rule, and decided to try to give up meats and sweets, and try to pray the morning and evening offices. I knew that if I was faithful in these small things, God would be faithful to me in so many things, both small and large.
And so today was a great gift, a large thing, an incredible blessing, a time when God’s faithfulness was abundantly real. I was given a new sister today – we all were, those of us in our little flock – and this Sacrament of Holy Baptism fed us like manna in the desert. We entered into a deeper, richer communion with the holy, and with one another as well.
Even now, writing this, I am stunned by it all. I am in awe of this great gift of God, this sacrament in which my friend became my sister.